Medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn told a crowd of angry citizens opposed to wind farms last night that she also has concerns about health effects of the giant turbines, but lacks the power to alter green-energy legislation.
“I certainly appreciate the fact that people are suffering and I want to know why and what to do about it,” she said during an information meeting at the Grey Bruce Health Unit.
However Lynn told the crowd of about 120 that their anger and frustration is aimed at the wrong people because the health unit has no influence over new Green Energy Act rules aimed at streamlining the construction of wind farms.
Keynote speaker Dr. Ray Copes echoed Lynn’s comments as the crowd grew increasingly frustrated.
“We can talk here all night, but if the people you’re talking to have no power, you really need to evaluate who you’re talking to,” said Copes, director of environment and occupation health for the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.
Health unit health protection director Chris Munn said, at best, the audience’s concerns will form part of a letter the agency will send to Queen’s Park and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch.
Lynn said the meeting was meant to provide information to the public about wind turbines. She said while the health unit is charged with investigating health concerns, the agency does not have “the facility” to perform local health studies related to the effect of turbines.
Copes, a new staffer with the ministry, gave a one-hour slideshow presentation about health concerns and safety risks linked to wind turbines.
He said many problems — such as ice projectiles, shadow flicker and mechanical/structural malfunctions — can be solved with proper setback regulations.
The province is legislating a setback of 550 metres, which local Ministry of the Environment supervisor Rick Chappell called a “very cautious approach.”
Copes admitted the health risks associated with low-frequency noise are real and can cause sleep loss, which can create other health problems.
“If you’ve got that noise that’s bugging you and preventing sleep, then that’s not healthy,” he said.
He added “there’s no way to generate power without having some disbenefit or adverse impact.”
Air pollution from coal-power plants also affects health, he said.
Copes’ characterization of the low-frequency noise as an “annoyance” generated many angry responses from the crowd. At one point the Owen Sound police were called. One man shouted within a metre of Lynn’s face.
Wind farm critic Lorrie Gillis said the turbines cause an array of health problems, including chronic sleep disturbance, dizziness, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, irritability, nausea, moodiness and ringing in the ears.
“They’re fine when they leave their house. They’re not fine at home. They were fine before the wind turbines were there. They’re not fine now. It’s more than just an annoyance,” she said.
The crowd also grew frustrated — and many people shouted out — after Copes’ presentation concluded, saying none of the information was new and much is disputed by people who live close to the turbines.
“I think the flow of information is more from us to you than from you to us,” said resident Alan Lewis.
Copes said the best he can do is listen to concerns and present information. It’s up to the policy makers and politicians to make real changes, he said.
A handful of people asked Lynn and Copes whether they would be willing to visit residents near the turbines and study health effects.
When the pair said they do not have the resources to perform onsite visits related to turbines, a couple of people asked whether the meeting was a “waste of time.”
To that, Copes answered “I suppose if the purpose of visiting with people is to make changes to the current legislation in Ontario, then it is a waste of time.”
Two large-scale wind-powered generation sites are in operation in Bruce County — Enbridge Ontario Wind Farm near Underwood and Ripley South.
There are 90 wind farms in Ontario. More are planned, including some in Grey and Bruce counties.
The McGuinty government’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act passed into law in May as a way to streamline the approvals process for wind farms so more can be created in less time. The act calls for all utilities to grant priority grid access to green projects.
The province has promised to eliminate coal-fired power by 2014 and add 975 wind turbines by 2012. It also says the act will create 50,000 “green collar” jobs over three years.
Under the act, municipalities lose the power to enact setbacks for wind turbines. The province has approved a setback minimum of 550 metres from residential properties, unless something else in the community is louder than the turbines.
The act also ensures that developers of renewable-energy projects will receive permits within six months.
The province says wind turbines are “one of the safest energy technologies and have an outstanding health and safety record.”
However, citizens groups have been organized across Grey-Bruce, under names such as Grey Highlands Wind Action Group, Blue Highlands Citizen’s Coalition, Bruce County Wind Action Group and Ripley Area Victims.
A second public meeting, also with Copes as the keynote speaker, is scheduled for Tuesday at Walkerton’s Jubilee Hall. It will run from 7 to 9 p.m.