Ontario’s anti-wind turbine advocates are taking aim at the province’s public complaint process, releasing a batch of damning numbers that show wind farm noise reports are falling on deaf ears.
Wind Concerns Ontario’s latest report compiled all turbine complaints filed with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2014. The report data, provided through access to information laws, showed 3,180 incidents were logged through the ministry’s hotline and district offices.
But more important than the number is how the complaints are handled – a process Wind Concerns Ontario said is more opaque than it should be.
“The system is flawed, the process is flawed, in terms of responding,” said Jane Wilson, president.
“If there’s any danger to people or the environment, these things really need to be looked at and that’s not what we saw here… This is really validating and confirming the concerns of citizens.”
Of the nearly 3,200 reports, 1,730 didn’t get site visit from ministry staff. Action on another 1,424 incidents was listed as deferred or planned. Only 24 public complaints on wind turbine operations between 2006 and 2014 were given priority status, according to ministry records obtained by Wind Concerns Ontario. Wilson said noise issues were the most common complaint.
The revelation is resonating in Dutton Dunwich – an unwilling host of a planned wind farm – that’s now rattled by pressing question; if turbines do eventually dot the landscape, will their voices even be heard?
“We’ve known the complaints are out there. It’s been very frustrating for us for sure… They don’t take them seriously at all,” said Jamie Littlejohn, spokesperson for Dutton Dunwich Opponents of Wind Turbines.
“The government is not following the guidelines they’re supposed to be following.”
The 57.5 megawatt Strong Breeze Wind Farm – approved by the Independent Electrical Systems Operator in March 2015 – was one of the last to get the green light from regulators. In a surprise about-face six months later, the Liberal government decided to back away from signing another $3.8 billion in green energy deals.
Despite the municipality’s stance as unwilling hosts, and Mayor Cameron McWilliam’s calls to halt the development, the IESO approved Invenergy’s plan. The Chicago-based energy giant’s application was helped along by input from six First Nations communities more than 1,000 km away from the Southwestern Ontario township.
IESO approval in hand, Invenergy is now seeking the go-ahead from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change – an in-depth process that involves everything from construction and design plans to public consultation reports.
Though Littlejohn wants to see a halt to all wind turbine development in Ontario, he said the least the government can do is pay attention to the people living in the shadow of the towering energy producers.
“We want to see complaints followed through on, taken seriously… Why doesn’t the government take a step back and look at it,” he said.
“It’s upsetting to say the least. It’s a sad story.”
Where noise complaints are concerned, the ministry said it has policies and procedures staff follow to ensure issues are resolved.
“When a complaint is registered, the ministry responds by following up to ensure that the facility is in compliance with all provincial requirements,” said Gary Wheeler, spokesperson.
“This protocol includes both qualitative and quantitative methods to assist staff in determining whether noise under various meteorological conditions is exceeding the established noise level limits.”
Wheeler said the ministry regularly inspects large wind farms to make sure they’re complying with regulations and can take action against developments that are not.
“The ministry may require that wind turbines have restrictive operational hours, be turned off or be moved as determined on a case by case basis,” said Wheeler in a statement.
“Our priority is to protect public health and the environment.”
Southwestern Ontario wind farm complaints
2006 to 2014
442 – Enbridge Wind Farm in Kincardine
388 – Talbot Wind Farm in Chatham-Kent
236 – CAW Turbine in Port Elgin
179 – Marsh Line in Chatham-Kent
131 – Frogmore near Port Burwell
127 – Gosfield Wind Project in Kingsville
119 – Plateau Wind Farm in Grey County
117 – Harrow Wind Farm in Essex County
99 – Ripley Wind Power Project in Bruce County
69 – Conestogo in Drayton
55 – Kent Breeze in Chatham-Kent
54 – South Side in Essex County