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MOE pledges ongoing research on turbines, health

Provincial plans to create a streamlined approval process for renewable energy projects have been met with a bevy of objections ...Officials tout it as a means of creating "green" jobs ...Many stakeholders, however, aren't entirely pleased with what's on the table. ...Perhaps the most significant hot-button issue is the 550-metre minimum separation between renewable energy projects and residences.

Part three of three-part series

Provincial plans to create a streamlined approval process for renewable energy projects have been met with a bevy of objections - from proponents, municipal leaders, and those who believe wind turbines negatively impact human health - and a court challenge.

The government introduced its Green Energy Act earlier this year. Officials tout it as a means of creating "green" jobs and helping the government live up to its oft-delayed promise of eliminating coal-fired power plants.

Many stakeholders, however, aren't entirely pleased with what's on the table.

Wind energy proponents feel it takes away their flexibility in placing turbines; municipal councils abhor losing their ability to negotiate with project owners; and some people feel the act doesn't go far enough to protect residents.

Perhaps the most significant hot-button issue is the 550-metre minimum separation between renewable energy projects and residences. Previously, host municipalities are responsible for negotiating setbacks using their planning authority, which can be - and, in some cases, has been - overruled by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

"It's inadequate. We have evidence people living as... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Part three of three-part series

Provincial plans to create a streamlined approval process for renewable energy projects have been met with a bevy of objections - from proponents, municipal leaders, and those who believe wind turbines negatively impact human health - and a court challenge.

The government introduced its Green Energy Act earlier this year. Officials tout it as a means of creating "green" jobs and helping the government live up to its oft-delayed promise of eliminating coal-fired power plants.

Many stakeholders, however, aren't entirely pleased with what's on the table.

Wind energy proponents feel it takes away their flexibility in placing turbines; municipal councils abhor losing their ability to negotiate with project owners; and some people feel the act doesn't go far enough to protect residents.

Perhaps the most significant hot-button issue is the 550-metre minimum separation between renewable energy projects and residences. Previously, host municipalities are responsible for negotiating setbacks using their planning authority, which can be - and, in some cases, has been - overruled by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

"It's inadequate. We have evidence people living as far away as 1,500 metres are experiencing serious side effects from wind turbines," insists Beth Harrington of Wind Concerns Ontario, a grassroots organization formed to raise the profile of reported health impacts associated with industrial wind turbines. "It's very serious what's going on."

Some people who live near turbines, including several in Dufferin, say they suffer headaches, fatigue, a ringing in the ears and more. No one contacted by The Banner has documented evidence to draw a direct connection between their symptoms and the turbines, but they say the symptoms didn't appear until the turbines were turned on.

An application was filed Oct. 19 seeking a judicial review of the Act based on the precautionary principal, which suggests if something can't be proven safe, it shouldn't be used.

The application, filed by a Prince Edward County man, claims there is more than sufficient uncertainty surrounding wind development for the court to strike down portions of the legislation until "proper" health studies are conducted.

"The actions of this government have turned the precautionary principle on its head," says Dr. Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, who has repeatedly asked the provincial government to stop approving wind power projects until a full epidemiological study has been completed.

"People are leaving their homes. Some people have had to be admitted to hospital with hypertensive episodes," McMurtry says.

"All the victims have one thing in common. When they go back home, or near the wind farms, they're worse and when they get away, they're better."

Canadian Hydro Developers, which operates a 133-turbine wind farm in the county, acknowledges it purchased the homes of at least two residents who reported health problems related to the turbines; however, the majority of residents around the turbines have not reported any health problems or filed noise complaints.

"We did a jurisdictional comparison of what other countries in Europe are doing and what they're doing in the [United] States," Kate Jordan, Ministry of the Environment (MOE) spokesperson says of how the 550-metre setback was determined. "We based that framework both on that jurisdictional scan and the science and the modelling work that our staff did here.

"That is a protective and progressive approach that we have taken."

Previously, setbacks were largely determined based on the MOE noise guideline - a 40-decibel limit at the point of reception.

"We felt that was a very evidence-based process in terms of determining setbacks. ... We have expressed concern [with the Green Energy Act] because it does seem somewhat arbitrary, the selection of the number," says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

"We feel we've actually had a very effective regulatory framework in Ontario that has helped to determine setbacks. The use of that has determined that some turbines can be built closer than 550 metres and some turbines cannot be built that close and have to be built further away," he says, noting setbacks across the province "generally" range between 400 and 700 metres.

Municipalities across the province passed resolutions opposing the Act's setbacks, including many local communities.

Conscious of reported negative health impacts, the province will fund an academic research chair to keep on top of the latest science and technology associated with renewable energy projects, especially wind turbines, explains Jordan.

"That chair's role will be to research potential public health effects of renewable energy projects as new information and new science emerges. That will ensure that our approvals continue to be protective of public health and the environment. That work will be ongoing," she says.

"There are more details to come on that this fall. We're just looking at the options right now for establishing the chair."

Currently, the MOE doesn't have any regulatory standards regarding low-frequency noise - something the chair will be charged with considering. Any recommendations brought forward by the chair are to be reviewed by ministry staff for potential implementation.

"We intend to participate in the public process, as well as respond to the various ministries involved," Harrington says in reference to the research chair's work. "We don't think the government should proceed any further until these things have been looked into very closely."

At 550, the new provincial setback is 100 metres farther than exists today in Amaranth and part of Melancthon, home to Canadian Hydro's EcoPower Centre. Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver believes the increased separation is a step in the right direction, but he questions whether it's enough.

"We've had quite a bit of concern over the current wind farm - the transformer noise and the turbine noise," he says.

"What I see with the Green Energy Act ... it's going to open up the township to a lot more wind turbine development in all sorts of different areas. And we won't have any power to help make adjustments," the mayor adds.

Through the act, a one-stop shop for renewable energy projects will be created to help initiatives get off the ground more quickly. As part of that streamlined process, several regulatory processes have been amalgamated.

In doing so, the province has taken away municipal involvement. Planning approvals, environmental assessments, certificates of approval and other authorizations are now handled by a single provincial body.

"We fought for everything to try to protect residents," MacIver says, referring to an OMB challenge initiated by Canadian Hydro. "The Green Energy Act takes that away. Our issue was always proper planning - that any development that comes into the town is subject to proper planning. It's not a question of whether you like turbines or not, it's a question ... of planning it and putting it in properly."


Source: http://www.orangevillebanne...

NOV 19 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/23212-moe-pledges-ongoing-research-on-turbines-health
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