By Susan Hundertmark, Huron Expositor
Huron East councillors face a tough decision at their next council meeting on April 5. As they consider giving third reading to a wind turbine development policy bylaw that would follow the lead of Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (ACW) in creating setbacks of 2,000 metres between industrial wind turbines and their receptors (such as places where people live and work), they are all too aware that the province’s Green Energy Act sets a much shorter setback of 550 metres.
Councillors who are in favour of the ACW bylaw want to do something to protect the health and wellbeing of their constituents. After spending time doing their own research and being lobbied by affected ratepayers, councillors aren’t content that the provincial setbacks will ensure that Huron East residents don’t have to move from their homes as others have had to do near wind projects close to Ripley and other locations throughout Ontario.
Even councillors who are wary of the ACW bylaw are not convinced the health of their constituents will be unaffected by the proximity of industrial wind turbines. Every municipal politician who ran in the November election for a spot on Huron East council spoke about the need for an independent study in Ontario about the health effects of wind turbines. They are, however, concerned about the financial costs of taking a stand against a government that has taken away their right to control the citing of wind turbines in their community.
“We are in a no-win situation,” said Brussels councillor and former Mayor Joe Seili, as he expressed his worry about court costs and the potential need to compensate wind development companies for loss of income.
Municipal politicians have known since before it was passed that the Green Energy Act would severely restrict their ability to regulate industrial wind energy projects and in Huron East, council has been consulting with its solicitor for months to find a way to respect the law while responding to the concerns of its constituents. While Huron East councillors have passed a cost recovery bylaw that will compensate the municipality for any damages done to roadways and municipal property during the transportation and installation of these huge 40-storey towers and their massive blades, it’s the human cost that council has been so far, powerless to respond to.
Despite continued and plentiful requests for an independent health study on wind turbines from 76 municipalities across Ontario, the province has failed to launch such a study whose costs and required expertise are beyond any one municipality to finance or administer.
Huron County council has formed a committee to study low frequency noise, which is identified by many complainants as the source of their health problems. But, because low frequency noise is mostly unstudied, the committee could take years to come up with appropriate regulations.
In the meantime, a number of local wind development projects continue to sit on a list awaiting approval for connection to the grid, a waiting room that is expected to begin to clear once the Bruce to Milton transmission line is complete in 2012. And, local ratepayers and their councils feel an increasing amount of pressure to protect themselves from perceived threat as time counts down.
It is a shame the provincial government painted municipal councils into a corner where councillors feel they must either ignore the health and safety of their ratepayers or make the potentially expensive choice of committing what, in the face of the Green Energy Act, has become an act of civil disobedience.