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Ontario wind farm law court challenge to be heard today

Human impacts, Wind turbines Add comments

Today in Toronto, an Ontario Superior Court will begin hearing a challenge to wind farm siting provisions of the province’s new Green Energy Act, which set a minimum distance from wind turbines to homes at 550 meters.

The Ottawa Citizen has a good, detailed article about the legal challenge, which you can read here.

UPDATE: Here’s a new Citizen story on the day’s proceedings.

What could be interesting about this case is that they are directly challenging the claimed comprehensiveness of key previous studies of the health effects of wind farms. These literature reviews, the court challenge claims, were incomplete, and failed to provide necessary medical evidence of the safety of the current setbacks. The litigants hope to submit expert testimony from two doctors whose own studies have led them to recommend much larger safety zones to protect citizens from sleep disruption, stress, and other health-related effects. Perhaps the most important witness for the challengers is Robert McMurtry. From the Citizen article:

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 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.

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 McMurtry.

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.

“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.”

In AEI’s view, the last factor is perhaps the most interesting one to keep an eye on: increasingly, arguments in favor of closer siting standards call on the fact that other places use such limits; indeed, the Ontario 550m limit is somewhat larger than many others. What seems to be happening is that these current standards are, in some places, not providing the level of protection from noise impacts that were expected, or that communities now facing wind development may desire for themselves. As with other new sources of community noise, it appears that we may be in a period during which the real impacts of initial regulatory standards are becoming clear, leading to efforts to strengthen community noise standards for this new technology. Adding to the stew, of course, is the fact that indeed there are some communities in which closer siting has not led to major noise issues; this hints at the variation we may find in community noise tolerance, and at the complexity and subtlety that will be encountered as we continue to try to work these issues out.

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