Federal wind turbine study welcomed by both sides of issue


By Barb McKay

A federal study into possible health effects from wind turbine noise is being embraced by both sides of the wind energy debate.

Health Canada announced last week that it would initiate a research study, in partnership with Statistics Canada, to determine if there is a relationship between wind turbine noise and health issues reported by residents who live within wind energy developments.

“I’m absolutely thrilled our federal cousins are stepping in and doing what the McGuinty government has refused to do,” said Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson.

Thompson, whose private members bill calling for a moratorium on new wind energy developments failed in the Legislature in March, has been pushing her fellow members of provincial parliament to act on complaints from residents who live within wind project areas. She told The Independent last week that she had contacted federal Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq in February asking for help.

“The fact that the federal Minister of Health jumped in with a study that is very much about engaging people is good news,” Thompson said, adding that she will work to ensure both sides are engaged.

The Health Canada study will focus on a sample size of 2,000 homes that are selected from between eight and 12 wind energy developments across Canada. Health Canada has stated that certain elements of the study, including the study areas and survey components will not be revealed to prevent bias.

Investigators will conduct face-to-face interviews with study participants and take physical measurements, including blood pressure. Sound measurements will be conducted inside and outside of some of the homes. According to Health Canada, the study will include input and be peer-reviewed by experts in the fields of noise, health assessment, clinical medicine and epidemiology.

The proposed research design and methodology for the study has been posted on Health Canada’s website for a 30-day public review and comment period. The study is expected to be published in 2014.

"This study is in response to questions from residents living near wind farms about possible health effects of low frequency noise generated by wind turbines," Aglukkaq said in a media release. "As always, our government is putting the health and safety of Canadians first and this study will do just that by painting a more complete picture of the potential health impacts of wind turbine noise."

Last week, Thompson wrote a letter to Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley regarding the study announcement and again called on the government to implement a moratorium.

“There is no place in Canada that this study will be watched as intently as here in Ontario,” the PC deputy energy critic’s letter stated. “Your government continues to erect wind turbines in unwilling host communities, and without knowing the true health and environmental effects that may stem from them. Your government has even invested millions of taxpayer dollars in a University of Waterloo study about the health impacts of wind turbines, yet you refuse to call for a moratorium until the findings of this study have been released.”

Thompson said she received a response back from Bentley and said that he is on record as saying that he is satisfied with the Ontario Medical Officer of Health’s study, which Thompson said was an internal study.

Kincardine councillor Ron Coristine said he is encouraged by the fact that Health Canada is conducting a study, because the government will end up paying for the potential health costs of wind energy one way or another.

“This is very important in that it’s a nationwide study and it’s something that people having been calling for,” he said. “It’s somewhat overdue, but it’s reassuring that it’s taking place.”

Coristine said he was pleased to see the list of external experts who will be involved with the study, who appear to be a credible group of people from a wide range of fields.

“The skills needed will be present at the table,” he said.

Ian McRobbie, general manager of Enbridge Green Energy Power Operations in Kincardine, said he is pleased to see that a federal study is being undertaken.

“First and foremost, Enbridge takes the health and well-being of our residents very seriously,” he said. “So we’re encouraged that they are doing this study.”

McRobbie said Enbridge is looking forward to seeing the results of the study and the company will then evaluate if there will be an impacts to its current developments or future projects. Currently, Enbridge operates a 190-megawatt (115 turbine) development in Kincardine.

Jackie Clements, of the Kincardine chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), recently returned from the CFUW annual meeting in British Columbia, where she and another member introduced a resolution that would call for a temporary moratorium on wind energy developments until conclusive, impartial studies are completed around site placement, environmental and economical efficiencies and human health.

Clements said the resolution was not passed, but at least the issue received some exposure at the national level. She said representatives from other provinces felt issues around wind energy pertained to Ontario.

“We were not able to persuade them,” she said.

Clements said the announcement of the federal health study solidifies the case she tried to make in B.C.

“I felt vindicated and encouraged by the news,” she said. “The overall situation is one that affects us all.”

Clements said the CFUW is not against green energy initiatives, but believes more research needs to be conducted to ensure that green energy projects truly are “green” and economically efficient. She said the province is determined to push wind energy developments forward without consideration for other potentially more efficient sources of energy.

“We have to come up with a mix that is reasonable and sensible,” she said.