by Lee Greenburg, Ottawa Citizen
TORONTO — A government lawyer fighting off a major challenge to wind energy in Ontario says the foremost health impact complained about by detractors is not a medical condition at all, but a “fact of life.”
Frederika Rotter cast aspersions on the term “annoyance,” which opponents describe as a critical health condition caused by giant wind turbines, which emit noise that, they say, causes a number of other physiological effects, including sleep disturbance, headache, irritability, problems with concentration and depression.
“Annoyance doesn’t equal ‘serious harm to human health,’” Rotter told an Environmental Review Tribunal panel Thursday. “You could be annoyed by your neighbour’s screaming. Everyone suffers from annoyance.”
Eric Gillespie, a lawyer for an anti-wind group hoping to keep industrial wind farms out of the province, argued Thursday that the government didn’t adequately consider the adverse effects of wind turbines on human health.
The hearing is an attempt by Gillespie and the grassroots anti-wind organization he represents to appeal an eight-turbine wind farm run by Suncor Energy Services Inc. in southwestern Ontario known as Kent Breeze.
The project in Chatham-Kent is to be the first under Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the 2009 legislation designed to encourage wind, solar and other renewable energy projects in the province.
The legislation is lauded by environmentalists but has stirred controversy in rural communities, which, under the new law, have lost the power to determine where the massive turbines will be placed.
While wind energy is generally supported from afar, it generates substantial opposition in host communities. The Green Energy Act was designed to combat that NIMBYism by centralizing the decision-making process.
A large group of angry rural residents joined together in response and funded the current case against Kent Breeze.
While Gillespie, the group’s lawyer, couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the health effects of turbines — saying it could be low-frequency noise, infrasound (not audible to humans) or even visual appearance — he compared the situation to a restaurant serving contaminated food.
The restaurant would be closed, he said, before health authorities determined whether it was “the tomatoes or the fish” that caused the food poisoning.
“We don’t wait,” he said. “We act.”
Rotter accused Gillespie of building a spurious, scattergun case against turbines.
“The bulk of his evidence is speculation and fear-mongering,” she said.
The government lawyer said many of the anti-wind group’s “experts” were in fact advocates.
They include Dr. Robert McMurtry, a notable orthopedic surgeon and former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario who became interested in turbines when an installation was proposed near his residence in Prince Edward County.
Rotter said McMurtry and two other physicians relied upon by Gillespie were members of local wind opposition groups as well as an international group that opposes wind turbines.
The research the doctors conducted was not in their field of expertise and was based on “biased and selective evidence,” she said.
“It was done to prove a thesis they already had in pursuit of making their case.”
Gillespie concluded his submissions by stating the Chatham-Kent wind farm, if allowed to go ahead, “will cause serious harm to human health.”
Rotter disagreed, playing down the impact the turbines will have on its neighbours.
“Noise is noise,” she said. “We all live with it. It’s not harmful at the volumes that will be generated at Kent Breeze. Whether you’re annoyed by it is another story.”
The panel will decide on the case by July 18.