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Ontario wind tech and health research chair named–background is solid in tech, weak on health

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Electrical engineer Siva Sivoththaman has been named to the newly-created Ontario provincial Research Chair in Renewable Energy Technologies and Health.  Local activist groups that have raised concerns about the effects of wind farm noise on neighbors had hoped that this position, created as part of Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, would take the lead in formally investigating the negative health effects some neighbors of wind farms have reported.  However, the choice appears to be more oriented toward the technology aspect of the Chair’s responsibilities.  As noted in the request for proposals: “The Chair in Renewable Energy Technologies and Health will focus first on emerging science and technology related to wind turbines, and then will explore the potential health effects from renewable energy.”

According to a news release, “Dr. Sivoththaman will bring focus to multi-disciplinary activities in renewable energy technologies and health, ensuring that health and safety are top priorities in the induction of new technologies. His research program will develop new technical approaches and will provide guidelines in setting standards to ensure health and safety in the manufacturing, use, and end-of-life phases of renewable energy technologies.” Sivoththaman’s research centres on silicon-based crystalline and thin-film photovoltaic devices, and he serves as director of the Centre for Photovoltaic Systems and Devices, which occupies much of the photovoltaic research building beside Matthews Hall. His interest extends to nanocrystalline semiconductors, and he was the first director of the University of Waterloo’s nanotechnology engineering program when it was launched in 2004.

Two leading Ontario wind activist groups expressed their disappointment with the choice; Wind Concerns Ontario said “We have no faith in any meaningful body of evidence being produced on health effects from wind turbines by this government-funded non expert and Ontarians will suffer for it,” while the Society for Wind Vigilance chair Dr. Robert McMurtry said the choice missed the mark in that “the lead and expertise of this Research Chair would more appropriately have been a clinician scientist. We strongly encourage the new Chair to seek the appropriate collaborators as the research program is established.”

It is as yet unclear what the Chair’s timeline will be in addressing the dual (and quite distinct) topics he is charged with overseeing.  Given the widespread concern about health effects, and the role this concern is playing in the wind development process in Ontario and elsewhere, we hope that the two topics will be pursued simultaneously.  And indeed, as McMurtry suggests, it is clear that the Chair will need to bring in some experts in health and acoustics to effectively address the health aspects; in the spirit of collaboration and inclusiveness, we can also hope that his research/investigative team draws from qualified experts who have expressed concerns about wind noise, as well as those who have previously worked on reports that found few health effects.

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