Walkom: How McGuinty’s windmill dreams became a nightmare

By Thomas Walkom National Affairs Columnist
Toronto Star

When Dalton McGuinty embraced wind power four years ago, it seemed he couldn’t lose.  Politically, his support for this infinitely renewable form of energy put the Ontario premier firmly on the side of the environmental angels.

Even more important, McGuinty’s Liberals pitched their commitment to wind as part of a comprehensive, green industrial strategy.  The government would not merely use wind turbines to generate electricity. It would also subsidize firms to build the giant machines for export.  In effect, windmills would be to the new Ontario what autos were to the old — the province’s economic driver.

Critics of the premier’s ambitious schemes were dismissed as cranks and nutters infected with a not-in-my-backyard syndrome.

To ensure that these self-seekers and know-nothings didn’t interfere with the government’s bold plans, Queen’s Park stripped municipal councils of their power to regulate wind turbines.

On paper, the plan seemed a sure winner.

But that was before Dr. Bob McMurtry.

McMurtry is neither a crank nor a nutter. An orthopedic surgeon and former dean of medicine at London’s University of Western Ontario, he is part of the country’s medical and political establishment.

He’s acted as a health advisor to the former federal Liberal government. In the early 2000s, he was a key advisor to Roy Romanow’s royal commission into Medicare.

McMurtry’s brother, Roy — a Red Tory and former attorney general — was Ontario’s chief justice for 11 years.

Bob McMurtry began as a strong advocate of wind power, keen to have a turbine built on the 16-hectare Eastern Ontario farm he bought four years ago for retirement.

As he explained in a telephone interview this week, he hoped to generate his own power and sell the rest to Ontario’s electricity network.

But being a scientific sort of chap, McMurtry began by researching the issue.

What he discovered alarmed him. In particular, he ran into evidence — re-enforced by personal encounters later — that low-frequency humming associated with wind turbines may lead to chronic sleeplessness, stress and even hypertension causing heart disease for anyone living within two kilometres of a machine.

What alarmed him more was that the provincial government did not even monitor this low-frequency noise. As well, under Ontario rules, giant windmills need be no more than 550 metres from any residence.

So in 2009, he made the not terribly radical suggestion that Queen’s Park conduct a proper, arms-length study on the health effects of industrial wind turbines before authorizing any more.

Failing that, he said, it should insist that new turbines be set at least two kilometres away from any dwelling.

The wind industry was outraged. Fearful of being enmeshed in red tape, wind power firms argued strongly against such a study. Their case was bolstered last May after provincial medical officer of health Dr. Arlene King issued a report saying no scientific evidence exists to show that wind turbines harm human health.

McMurtry countered that this is because no one has ever conducted a proper study — which is why he wants one.

Those interested in the dueling scientific arguments can find King’s report on the Ontario government website and McMurtry’s response at www.windvigilance.com.

But regardless of who wins the substantive debate, McGuinty’s windmill dreams have already become political nightmares.

Dozens of rural municipal councils, angered by the province’s decision to take away their regulatory authority, have passed motions of complaint.

Even the Ontario Federation of Agriculture — which represents farmers who rent their land to wind firms — has called for a moratorium on new turbines until a serious health study can be done.

The opposition Conservatives smell blood.

Trotting around through all of this is the unassuming Bob McMurtry.

He heads up a new international body of doctors and scientists investigating wind power called the Society for Wind Vigilance. Throughout small-town Ontario, he is in great demand as a speaker.

“There’s a real level of anger there,” he told me. “Rural Ontario is on fire.”

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday and Saturday.

6 thoughts on “Walkom: How McGuinty’s windmill dreams became a nightmare

  1. Thank heavens that voices of reason are finally being heard.

    Is it just me, or is the Liberal defense of their energy policy getting more bizarre? Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli explains away questionable claims about green jobs, when questioned by MPP Lisa McLeod, by claiming that he gave the interview while in his pyjamas.

    http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2011/01/14/16896531.html

  2. Strange that of all papers, The Star would finally publish something that shines a dim light of accusations against their “hero” McGuinty and Gang?

    Do they finally realize they have been tied to a losing nag in a race going nowhere?

    Do they realize that Hudak will be their next “benefactor”?

    Is this just blatant “sucking up” to the future “powers” that hand out $$$ to the “bought off media”?

    OR: Has McGuinty got the job done and all the Turbines he has promised his “buddies” for their investment portfolios have been approved and his job has been “completed”? Can his NEW job be far away for being a good little “toady” to the Green Gang?

    There has to be much much more to this story and it isn’t pretty!

  3. You want to believe there is a fire in rural Ontario, and the cities know it too. This government has walked all over land owners, and pushed through a crap electrical production plan that is going to bleed consumers dry.
    If the Conservatives smell blood, they are right.

  4. Thomas Walkom is the first to catch the boat! Congratulations Mr. Walkom for breaking through and reporting on the heart of the problem with turbines. We do not want anymore wind company/liberal government industrialization of our rural communities. We don’t want to see any more people forced from their homes.
    And the Conservatives, the ones who smell blood, had better be very sure that they also understand that rural Ontario has had ENOUGH. If conservatives “honour” contracts to put up more turbines after they are in power then they are no damn better than the liberals who started it all into being.

  5. Quixote, right on, with regards to your “OR”, you always manage to hit the nail with the head of the hammer. Then I got to thinking and wondered, who in their right mind, would ever hire “Dalton”?

    This time, next year Ontarian’s will discover even more of the Queens Park Bandit’s dastardly deeds, as history always repeats itself, as its been said on more than one occasion when it comes to politics.

    In 1990, as I recall, Ontarian’s almost immediately discovered the reprehensible behind closed doors proceedings of the Peterson’s Government, who as well, had no respect for it’s electorate. What the McGuinty will have done over his eight year dictatorship, will take years to fix if, in fact it can be fixed. By comparison, the 40TH Queens Park Assembly, will make Bob Rae’s 35TH dominance look like a picnic in the park.

    Upon the new government’s scrutiny of it’s Provincial Books, they will discover a “Nightmare on Elm Street”, come true.

  6. Maybe this is why opposing viewpoints never get publicized…

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    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/922697–crtc-may-ease-ban-on-broadcasting-false-or-misleading-news?bn=1

    “OTTAWA—The CRTC is proposing a regulatory change that would give Canadian TV and radio stations more leeway to broadcast false or misleading news.

    Current regulations contain a blanket prohibition on broadcasting “any false or misleading news.”

    The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission wants to considerably narrow the scope of that prohibition.

    It is proposing a ban on the broadcast of “any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”

    The CRTC quietly posted notice of the proposed change, which is slated to go into effect on Sept. 1, on its website last week. The agency is accepting comments from the public until Feb. 9.”

    *************************

    I guess if you “know” that wind turbines are “good for you” then anything else is false… Just like “global warming is unequivocal” — especially if you fudge the records till they say what you want them to say…

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