By Mihal Zada
Industrial wind farms is an issue that has caused turbulence in many rural communities. This week it is awaiting a ruling by a panel of three judges.
The panel heard evidence in Toronto Monday from Prince Edward County resident and wind turbine activist Ian Hanna, represented by environmental lawyer Eric Gillespie. He brought his case against the Ministry of the Environment before the superior courts of Ontario.
The Ministry of the Environment’s policy about wind turbines states that they can be built a minimum of 550 metres away from residential buildings.
Developers have already bought land to build wind farms. All over Ontario, plans for generating wind energy have been put in motion.
All that may soon grind to a halt.
If Hanna is successful, a long-debated question will have to be answered with scientific certainty: Does the noise and vibration from industrial wind farms affect human health?
Both parties made reference to medical studies in the hearing. The trouble is, to this date, there has been no controlled, peer-reviewed studies on the effects of wind turbines on human health.
Gillespie argued that studies proving adverse health affects were available but employees of the ministry who were not qualified to review those studies dismissed them.
“There does not appear to be anyone who has the requisite qualifications to provide recommendations to the minister,” Gillespie told the panel.
Hanna’s evidence included a study by Dr. Robert McMurtry. An orthopedic surgeon, McMurtry has been dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario and was once policy advisor to the Minister of Health. McMurtry is also a resident of Prince Edward County.
He interviewed a group of people living within 1.5 kilometres of wind turbines and a group living five kilometres away. The study was not controlled and did not include a review of medical records. He concluded that people living within 1.5 kilometres of an industrial wind farm are more likely to suffer from hypertension, sleep disorders and anxiety issues.
Sara Blake, counsel for the ministry, argued that McMurtry’s study is biased and inadmissible. Blake said McMurtry is a member of an anti-wind turbine activist group and his study is anecdotal, not peer-reviewed.
Blake referred to a study on night noise conducted by the World Health Organization. The study suggested that in order to be safe for humans, a structure emitting noise at the frequency of wind turbines must be set back at least 350 metres from a residence. The minimum setback prescribed by the ministry was 550 metres; Blake said this was a conservative amount.
The WHO study does not make any reference to wind turbines. It is a study of acceptable noise levels in residential areas.
In the absence of any study that scientifically confirms or discredits the harmful effects of wind turbines, Gillespie evoked the precautionary principle, which says that in the absence of scientific proof, policy should err on the side of caution.
The ministry, however, feels that they have been sufficiently vigilant in creating their policy.
“We believe we have put in place a protective and cautious approach to developing renewable energy in Ontario,” says Kate Jordan from the communications branch of the Ministry of the Environment. “Our approvals are based on science, modeling work and jurisdictional comparisons.”
The panel has not yet made a decision on the matter.