Councillor urges study of wind farms for health risks
Rideau-Goulbourn Councillor Glenn Brooks was going to ask council to direct the city’s chief medical officer of health to do the study, but the officer says it would be too expensive and time-consuming for his office. So, instead, Brooks says he plans to ask council at next week’s meeting of the rural-affairs committee to call on the province to act.
Brooks says he thinks the application and approval process for wind farms should continue, but none should be built until the study is done.
“When dealing with health-related matters, you go with the science, but the science on this seems to be missing.”
“Some people say these things make people sick, some say they don’t. So let’s get the scientific answers before moving ahead,” Brooks said. The councillor is confronting the issue because Prowind Canada is trying to get a wind farm approved in his ward, near North Gower, and some area residents aren’t happy.
And he’s right about the difference of opinion on whether the turbines can cause sickness.
Some doctors have reported that low-level noise and vibrations from the turbines cause everything from headaches and queasiness to heart problems, depression and insomnia. Others say there is no evidence the turbines cause any problems or even have the potential to do so.
Ontario Minister of Infrastructure and Energy George Smitherman has been the government’s point man for the implementation of the Green Energy Act, which aggressively promotes renewable projects such as wind farms.
Part of the act takes the authority to approve renewable energy projects away from municipalities for two reasons: the fear local politicians would be swayed by not-in-my-backyard lobby groups, and to speed things up and get these projects producing power.
Amy Tang, Smitherman’s spokeswoman, said the proposed rules on how close turbines can be to residences (600 metres) and other aspects of the projects are based on the “best scientific evidence to date.”
But the leader of a group of North Gower residents opposed to the proposed wind farm says the best science to date isn’t good enough.
Gary Chandler, chairman of the North Gower Wind Action Group, said there is insufficient data on the long-term health effects of wind farms. He said opposition to wind farms in Europe, where they have existed for years, is muted because the turbines there are often community owned.
“They don’t get a lot of opposition because a lot of those people are making a lot of money (from the energy produced),” he said. “It’s like if you live in Alberta and you’re against oil drilling — you wouldn’t get much of an audience because their economy depends on it.”
Chandler, whose house is less than a kilometre away from the proposed wind farm, supports Brooks’ proposal.
“Let’s stop, get independent advice from medical and epidemiological studies, come back, show us the report and let’s move forward from that point,” he said. “There’s too much at stake here to go full-bore down this path — without knowing for sure, 100 per cent, what the long-term health impacts are going to be.”
Tang said the province will shortly be creating an office specifically to monitor the “ongoing health and environmental impacts” of various renewable energy projects, including wind farms.
She said if legitimate health concerns relating to wind power generation are discovered, changes to the program could be made.
It’s important to remember, Tang said, that the move to renewable energy is designed to allow the province to shut coal generating plants, which contribute directly to health-endangering air pollution.
Bart Geleynse Jr., Prowind’s director of Canadian operations based in Kemptville, said the allegations that turbines make people sick are just the latest in what has become a “classic reaction to technological progress,” and he predicted that Brooks’ move will fail — if not atCity Hall, then definitely at Queen’s Park.
He said he, too, is concerned about people’s health, and if the health problems some people living near turbines report are psychosomatic, they need to be addressed, even “if there is no scientific basis for them.
“There are examples of this throughout history, and the negative reactions and resistance to change are sometimes based on unfounded and emotive feelings and fears,” Geleynse said. “If we gave in to these fears, we wouldn’t have cars, cellphones or lightbulbs.”
With files from Lee Greenberg.