The court case that might stop wind turbines (Ontario)
Jan 24, 2011
—Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen (1/24/11)
An Eastern Ontario man has launched a court case that could put the brakes on the province’s green energy plans.
Ian Hanna, a 56-year-old property owner from Prince Edward County, says the government wasn’t fully informed when it concluded industrial wind turbines could exist 550 meters away from the nearest home. Hanna and his supporters say there is no medical evidence to support the decision and are asking a Superior Court judge to halt all wind development until a full medical study is performed. The case will be heard in Toronto on Monday.
“They didn’t look at the dangers, at what these things can do to people,” says Hanna, who operates a wine importing business. “We maintain they had an obligation to seriously consider the health of Ontario citizens before they allowed companies to come in and stick these things so close to their homes that they make them sick. So we’ve asked the court to declare those four sections of the act void.”
Anti-wind activists contend the low-frequency noise emitted from turbines leads to chronic sleeplessness, stress and even hypertension causing heart disease.
While these claims were initially given short shrift, they have lately gained greater currency.
Two-and-a-half years ago Hanna would have been thrilled to have spoken to an audience of 15 people. Anti-wind gatherings now regularly attract hundreds of people.
About 125 braved frigid temperatures Sunday afternoon to hear Hanna and two other activists speak at a public meeting organized by the North Gower Wind Action Group.
A rumbling hum filled the meeting room at the Alfred Taylor Centre as people filed in and took their seats. Organizer Jane Wilson said it was the sound of three wind turbines as recorded by a landowner in Maine who lives about a kilometre from the nearest wind turbine. “What is missing from this recording is the vibration,” Wilson said.
Wolfe Island resident Janet White painted a bleak picture of life among wind turbines. She said corporate wind developers have driven a wedge in the small community between those who oppose the development and those, like her neighbours, who support it and have allowed a company to install three turbines on their property.
White said the Wolfe Island wind turbine developments have created few jobs or other economic benefits for the community as a whole. “We’re not building anything, there’s no legacy here,” she said.
Underpinning the anti-wind movement’s new-found credibility is the presence of Dr. Bob McMurtry, an orthopedic surgeon and former dean of the University of Western Ontario’s medical school, who initially began researching turbines in the hopes of owning one himself.
His findings turned him against wind.
McMurtry, who, like Hanna, owns property in Prince Edward County, will serve as one of three expert witnesses in Hanna’s court case, where he will testify that the turbines cause what is medically referenced as “annoyance.”
The condition “manifests itself in various ways including difficulties with sleep initiation and sleep disturbance, stress and physiological distress,” according to court documents filed in the Hanna case.
McMurtry is the brother of former Attorney General and Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry. He has advised the federal government on health policy and was special adviser to the Romanow Commission.
After spending more than 2,000 hours researching the issue, he concluded that people living within two kilometres of the turbines are in danger of experiencing adverse health effects.
“Stress and sleep deprivation are well known risk factors for increased morbidity including significant chronic disease such as cardiovascular problems including hypertension and ischemic heart disease,” according to Hanna’s factum.
Another Canadian doctor, Michael Nissenbaum, will report on his study of 22 people living within 1.1 kilometres of a wind farm in Mars Hill, Maine.
Nissenbaum found a range of health concerns among his subjects, including weight changes, metabolic disturbances (including diabetes), psychological stresses that resulted in chronic depression, anger and other psychiatric symptoms, headaches, auditory problems and overall increased use of prescription medication.
Nissenbaum’s study is believed to be the first of its kind, according to Hanna’s lawyer.
The province, through the Attorney General, says it took “every reasonable step” to consider the impact of its policies on human health.
“These steps included the consideration of all of the available studies and public comments respecting wind energy,” the government says in its court-filed factum.
“We believe we have put in place a protective and cautious approach to developing renewable energy in Ontario,” Kate Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Minister of the Environment, said in a statement to the Citizen.
“Our approvals are based on science, modelling work and jurisdictional comparisons.”
The application, if it is successful, would pose a serious challenge to the province’s Green Energy Act, which was designed not only as an environmental legislation but also as a solution to Ontario’s flagging manufacturing sector.
Subsidies and domestic content provisions in the legislation are aimed at kick-starting a homegrown industry, which includes a $7-billion deal with a South Korean consortium led by Samsung.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association, a powerful industry lobby group, will be represented as an intervener at the trial. A spokeswoman for the association declined to comment.
“We’re not saying anything until after the court case,” said Ulrike Kucera. “It’s premature.”
Hanna said Sunday he has raised about $200,000 for the legal challenge and, depending on the court’s decision, is prepared to launch an appeal. “If we don’t prevail at this level, please believe me, we’re not done.”