by ERICA BAJER, Chatham Daily News
Bill Palmer believes wind turbines pose a risk to human health. He plans to tell the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal why at the upcoming hearing into an appeal of the government’s approval of Suncor’s Kent Breeze Wind Farm near Thamesville.
Palmer was granted presenter status at the tribunal Tuesday during a pre-hearing held at Chatham-Kent council Chambers. Palmer, an engineer from the Saugeen Shores area, said he plans to touch on a number of issues including turbine noise and the threat of “ice throw” from the blades.
“Morally, I have an obligation to be here,” he said, noting he has knowledge and experience that could help the decision makers and he wants the opportunity to share it.
Palmer’s application for status at the tribunal wasn’t contested by the Ministry of the Environment’s lawyer Frederika Rotter or Suncor’s lawyer Albert Engel.
However, both expressed concern at Palmer’s qualifications to give expert evidence and questioned the scope of his testimony.
Lawyer Eric Gillespie, who filed the appeal on behalf of local resident Katie Erickson and Chatham-Kent Wind Action Inc., said Palmer should be allowed to present at the tribunal.
“The appellants are pleased that Mr. Palmer will be permitted to speak,” Gillespie said following the proceedings. “He brings a unique perspective that the tribunal wouldn’t otherwise hear.”
Palmer provided the lawyers with a synopsis of what he plans to say at the tribunal, which is slated to convene on Feb. 1.
The local wind farm was the first approved under the Ontario Green Energy Act in November.
At the heart of the appeal is the potential risk to human health, especially in relation to setbacks from residential properties. Under the Act, Gillespie said the minimum setback is 550 metres.
Health experts from around the world will be called by the parties during the tribunal, with more than 20 witnesses expected to give evidence.
Longwoods Road resident Cacey Simpson applied Tuesday for presenter status at the hearing.
He wants to talk about the impact turbine foundations have on groundwater.
“My concern is with the potential for groundwater contamination,” he said outside the hearing. “These windmill foundations have definitely penetrated the groundwater.”
His bid for status was deferred.
Simpson also made a motion to bring a constitutional question to the tribunal but learned that under the tribunal’s rules and regulations he can’t, even if he’s granted presenter status.
Simpson said he believes his constitutional right to security is compromised because of the psychological toll of living near a wind farm.
“It’s really an eyesore,” he said.
More than a dozen people attended the pre-hearing.
Dan Sinasac went because he wants to know what’s going on with the appeal.
He’s concerned that wind turbines are harmful to people.
“There’s a lot of these places going up,” he said. “I don’t think they really know enough. There are some issues but we’re ignoring the issues and going ahead and putting these things up.
“It will be interesting to hear what the doctors have to say.”
Sinasac lives one road over from where some of the turbines are being built.
Construction on the eight-turbine project continues, Suncor spokesman Kyle Happy told The Chatham Daily News.
“Construction is proceeding as planned,” he said.
He said the appeal hasn’t halted construction because it isn’t an appeal of the project itself but the approval process.
“We’re committed to developing renewable energy responsibly,” he said. “We’ll meet or exceed all regulations surrounding wind development.”
Happy said this is the company’s second wind farm in Ontario and it also has projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Kate Jordan, a spokeswoman with the Environment Ministry, said while the appeal process is taking place, the government’s approval of the Kent Breeze Wind Farm remains in effect.
The ministry stands behind the approval of that project.
“We do believe that we have taken a cautious and protective approach,” she said of the approval. “It’s based on science.”
The tribunal is expected to start on Feb. 1. Seven days have been set aside but it’s clear more time will be needed. It is hoped that more dates can be approved during a second pre-hearing tentatively scheduled for Jan. 20 by teleconference.
Other items discussed during the pre-hearing included:
- Gillespie got permission to allow three of his witnesses — doctors from Australia, New Zealand and Maine — to give evidence by video.
- The question of whether parts of a recently completed study can remain confidential was discussed but not decided.
- Lawyers are looking at possibly holding some of the tribunal in Toronto to help accommodate some witnesses.