Environment Minister’s response on altered well water: “generalities”

November 23, 2017

MPP demands that wind power projects be cancelled over concerns about Black Shale and polluted wells

 

MPP Monte McNaughton presents a bottle of well water to Minister Chris Ballard, compliments of the people of Chatham-Kent. The Minister’s response: “generalities”

 

In Question Period on November 20, Monte McNaughton, MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex rose to ask the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change what action was being taken for people in his riding whose well water has been rendered “undrinkable swill” during construction for a nearby wind power project.

Minister Ballard responded with, in his own words, “generalities” and specifically skipped over answering the question about the quality of well water to say that “renewable energy projects are a necessity.”*

Here, from Hansard, is what the Minister said in response to Mr McNaughton.

Mr. Monte McNaughton: My question today is for the Minister of Energy. In my riding of Lambton–Kent–Middlesex, your ministry is pushing ahead with two new industrial wind turbine developments, the North Kent 1 and Otter Creek wind farms. These wind farms will generate electricity we don’t need and contribute to pushing hydro bills even higher than they already are.

These developments include turbines almost 200 metres high with foundations that require pile driving into black shale bedrock, rock containing heavy metals. This bedrock carries water of the aquifer. Since the start of construction on the North Kent project, 14 water wells have become turbid and undrinkable.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve seen the impact of pile driving into black shale from the North Kent project. Why is the minister allowing construction to continue there, and why is he jeopardizing the drinking water of another community by going forward with the Otter Creek project?

Hon. Glenn Thibeault: To the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Hon. Chris Ballard: I’m happy to speak in some generalities around the need for wind turbines, and the very vigorous process that our government puts in place to make sure that the turbines are sited safely and that there is good, strong consultation with the community.

Speaker, we take the concerns regarding the environment and human health very seriously. I’ll say that we adhere to a very strict renewable energy approvals process.

Thanks to clean air and clean energy—and let me speak to the fundamentals for a second—Ontario has saved more than $4 billion in annual health and environmental costs because of this government’s commitment to clean energy.

Unlike the PCs, we can’t sit idly by. Renewable energy projects are a necessity and a crucial part of our low-carbon carbon switch, and we’re not going to back down from our—

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. I stand, you sit.

Supplementary.

Mr. Monte McNaughton: Back to the Minister of Energy: These wind farms will forever end food production on some of the best agricultural land in our country. And we are talking about an environmentally sensitive area, home to 24 species at risk, and within a major flight path for migratory birds. It is fragmenting the bedrock, turning clear, clean water into dirty, undrinkable swill, yet the project is going ahead even though the government has suspended the large renewable procurement II process because there is no need for additional electricity.

When the minister made that announcement in September 2016, I said that North Kent 1 and Otter Creek should be cancelled as well. Had the minister cancelled these two projects, the long-term savings would amount to $570 million. If stopping turbine construction makes economic, environmental and public health sense, why would the Minister of Energy sign off on continuing to build industrial wind farms in my riding of Lambton–Kent–Middlesex?

Interjections.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Stop the clock, please. Be seated, please. Thank you.

Minister?

Hon. Chris Ballard: Thanks for the opportunity to follow up on the North Kent wind farm. Again, I’m going to reiterate that our government takes these concerns regarding groundwater quality very seriously. The renewable energy approval process, in fact, requires these proponents to undertake extensive consultation with municipalities, indigenous communities and the public. Additionally, we have taken a very cautious, science-based approach when setting the standards for renewable energy projects in order to protect the health of the Ontario people.

Speaker, the proponent in this case has done extensive monitoring prior to construction, and we’re going to require them to continue to monitor the vibration data closely during construction and operation of the wind turbines. We require the company to conduct additional water quality assessments and we’re keeping an eye on this.

Minister Ballard with some not-Chatham-Kent water

 

*WCO note: one of the key parts of the decision on the Ostrander Point wind power project, where the approval was rescinded by the Environmental Review Tribunal, is that wind power is not a “necessity” and does not trump everything. The approvals of wind power projects must achieve balance between the development of renewable energy and preservation of the environment.

Amherst Island residents ask Environment Minister to revoke approval

The Amherst Island project is now materially different from what was reviewed by the Environmental Review Tribunal. Residents ask the MInister to review the situation today, and revoke approval. Photo: APAI

November 15, 2017

The Association to Protect Amherst Island has filed a formal letter of Appeal to the Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Chris Ballard, reminding him that it is within his power (contrary to the wind power developer assertions) to review the current situation with regard to the Windlectric project now under construction, and revoke its approval.

In a letter dated November 14th, the Association wrote:

This is an appeal on “matters other than law”.  Accordingly, you are not bound by precedent nor by the efforts of counsel for the Approval Holder, Windlectric Inc., and counsel for the Government to limit your authority to consideration of errors or to the narrow test required at the ERT to demonstrate “serious harm to human health; or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment”.  You are wrongfully advised by counsel for the opposing parties that even Government policy and political risk are irrelevant to this matter and that you don’t even have the authority to request the Director to require a modification to the project to reflect critical changes or to impose mitigation measures which Tribunal members accepted as essential. Please do not be guided by lawyers’ efforts to limit your authority. Your mandate is much broader than the restrictive views expressed by opposing counsel in the responses to APAI’s appeal.

You are respectfully requested to do what is in the public interest: to revoke approval of the Amherst Island Wind Project.

You have a real choice.

… The Association to Protect Amherst Island respectfully requests that you exercise your authority to revoke approval for the compelling reasons set forth in our earlier submissions:

  • Enforce and respect commitments made by the Approval Holder during the ERT to mitigate potential negative impacts on the environment. The ERT decision specifically states that the Tribunal Members considered commitments made by the Approval Holder that were not included in the REA conditions when coming to their decision. However, Mr. Paul Nieweglowski, Assistant Deputy Minister MOECC, advised that the MOECC has no mandate to enforce commitments not included in the REA conditions. The project under construction is now radically different from the project considered by the ERT and in layman’s terms appears as a classic “bait and switch” described more fully in our earlier brief.

APAI outlined the risks to the environment now being seen:

  • Safeguard Amherst Island residents’ access to clean water. All Island residents rely on wells.  The potential adverse impact of the construction of 26 turbines on groundwater on a vulnerable and isolated Island and the failure of MOECC to heed the initial advice of its own expert hydrologist to implement a comprehensive groundwater monitoring requires your intervention.  In the REA conditions, the MOECC required no studies and no monitoring.  MOECC advised that no geotechnical studies have been conducted.
  • Be proactive and protect human health by consistent application of noise regulations. If the Amherst Island Wind Project were proposed today the noise regulations implemented in 2016 would require significant changes to the project.   A minimum of ten homes would be subject to noise exceeding the new standards.     Why should Amherst Island residents be subjected to noise that MOECC acknowledges exceeds today’s safety standards?  You have an opportunity to take preventative action especially important when it has become widely known that MOECC has not investigated thousands of noise complaints related to wind turbines throughout rural Ontario.
  • Save $500 million by inviting the Approval Holder to terminate its FIT contract for the unneeded 75 MW Amherst Island project across the channel from the idle 2000 MW Lennox Generating Station paid monthly curtailment fees, the soon to be idle 800 MW Napanee Gas Plant to be paid over $13 million per month to NOT generate electricity, and 115 MW Northland Power whose offer of power at 5.6 cents per kilowatt was not accepted in contrast to the 14 cents per kilowatt to be paid on Amherst Island.
  • Address the many risks described in our submission to your predecessor, the Honourable Glen Murray, which forms part of this brief: construction of a cement plant adjacent to the Island’s only school (something that would not be allowed anywhere else in Ontario), impact of construction on lands considered historic by First Nations, conflict of barge traffic with the Island ferry in winter, impact on the Owl Capital of North America and an Important Bird Area, the decimation of the bat population, loss of grazing land for sheep farmers and consequent potential end of the farm, impact on health, damage to the rich cultural and natural heritage of the Island, and the high risk to public safety and the environment.

Read the full letter on the APAI website here.

Wind turbines to blame for well water problems: hydrogeologist

November 12, 2017

Well water problems continue in Chatham-Kent with neither the wind power developer consortium, the municipality (which is part of the developer consortium), or the Ontario Ministry of the Environment responding to citizens’ concerns about altered well water. People have complained about Black Water coming from their wells, or so much sediment that the wells stop working entirely.

Here is an excerpt from the current edition of Ontario Farmer, which contains interviews with two experts on water wells.

Of concern to Wind Concerns Ontario is not only the lack of acknowledgement, explanation or effective resolution but also the fact that yet another wind power project on the same hydrogeology is being considered for approval. Ontario needs answers as more projects on fragile hydrogeology are pushed forward.

Water in Chatham-Kent wells is cloudy, even brown: not our fault says Samsung-Pattern [Photo: Sydenham Current]

Hydrologist blames turbines for well water issues

By Jeffrey Carter, ONTARIO FARMER

November 7

Ontario’s MInistry of the Environment and Climate Change should have already stopped the North Kent project in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, according to hydrogeologist Bill Clarke.

It’s clear many wells have been compromised due to the vibrations created by wind turbine construction and by their operation, he said. Less clear is the level of risk for the people drinking the water. There are just too many unknowns to make a definitive statement on the matter.

Clarke, who is near retirement after a 40-year career in Ontario, has been working with Water Wells First citizens’ group that stands in opposition to wind farm development in the area, given the fragile nature of the aquifer.

“There are 13 families who are seeing a change in their water supply,” he said.

“Quantity is the issue now but not necessarily water quality. What’s happening is that particulate matter is getting loosened up at the base of the wells. In my opinion, there is well interference — there is no doubt.”

Clarke said well interference is something covered under the Ontario Water Resources Act and the situation should have raised a red flag for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (#MOECC).

Proponents of the North Kent Wind project, consultants hired by the developers, have said that turbine construction has had no impact on the wells, despite the visual evidence that suggests otherwise. In the case of the complaints, which now number 14 according to Water Wells First, problems only arose after turbine pile-driving operations began.

Clarke said the consultants are correct in one respect: sediment shaken loose below the area where the turbines are being erected is not a concern. However, few people, experts included, have recognized the extreme delicate nature of this particular aquifer. The vibrations from pile-driving, and even from those created by the rotation of the huge turbine blades, are an issue at the well locations themselves. This accounts for particles from the underlying bedrock — Kettle [Point Black Shale] — being found in the contaminated wells.

The aquifer is very fragile

“The aquifer is very fragile and what we didn’t know before this all began is how fragile it is … They [the ministry] are being reluctant to get involved and, subsequently making a decision,” Clarke said.

Filtering systems have proven ineffective. Some have quickly clogged up within days or even hours of being put into operation. This may explain why the wind farm developers have offered to supply municipal and bottled water to affected well owners, though liability is still denied.

Also weighing in on the nature of the aquifer was Craig Stanton, executive director of the Ontario Groundwater Association. He said it’s long been known that when water is drawn too quickly from the area’s aquifer, cloudiness can become an issue.

“A lot of those wells are only good for a gallon or two per minute because if you were to pump harder, you would disturb that till with water pressure,” he said.

Kettle [Point Black Shale] is the bedrock underlying much of Southwestern Ontario. Across the northern part of Chatham-Kent, it’s located within 50 to 70 feet of the soil surface.

The “sweet water” lies in a layer of glacial till just above the bedrock. Particles of the bedrock are mixed into the aquifer layer.\

Clarke, while convinced that water wells have been compromised by the wind far development, said the level of risk from a human safety perspective, is unknown at this point.

In a well water evaluation conducted for Peter Hensel, just south of Wallaceburg*, uranium, barium and selenium were all flagged under the Ontario Water [Resources Act]. Unfortunately, due to test limitations, the level of uranium and selenium detected could not be determined. The level of barium did exceed the standard but only marginally.

Questions sent to the MOECC concerning the potential health threat from Hensel’s 2016 results were not answered. Hensel has not yet supplied the MOECC with his 2016 results although a copy was given to Ontario Farmer. The MOECC has also not answered why, in its own 2017 test of Hensel’s water, metals were not included in the evaluation.

The same questions sent to the MOECC were sent to Ontario’s environment minister Chris Ballard’s office. So far, there’s been no reply from the minister’s office.

They should have known …

According to Stainton and Clarke, an evaluation of metal content is a standard part of most water tests.

“Why would you test for just part of the Periodic Table, and who made the decision (at the MOECC) on what they would or wouldn’t test for?” Stainton asked. “It certainly seems to me suspect, and they should have known these things are in the black shale.”

Stainton and Clarke are both puzzled by the MOECC’s reluctance to investigate the situation further,. Especially since concerns were raised prior to the start of construction on the North Kent Wind project.

“I believe if they had been listening, they never would have allowed North Kent to move forward because they should have learned their lessons in Dover. There should have been so many red flags going up that they should have said no,” Stainton said.

… a spokesperson with the MOECC [told Ontario Farmer] that the Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health has determined there is no risk from the particulates in the water in the absence of bacterial contamination.

*The MOECC is now contemplating approval of yet another wind power project on the same hydrogeology, the Otter Creek wind power project. A citizens’ group has formed: the Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns.

 

Huron County wind turbine noise investigation launched

Home in Huron County: Finally, tracking wind turbine noise complaints — the government isn’t doing it [Photo Gary Moon]
November 11, 2017

Here is an excerpt from a report on the recent meeting in Clinton, announcing the launch of the Huron County public health investigation into wind turbine noise.

A few notes: as far as we are aware, the “study” is actually an “investigation” under the Health Protection and Prevention Act of Ontario, in which reports of adverse health effects may be reported and investigated. The only association with the University of Waterloo was the review by the ethics committee of that university — the university is not involved in any other phase of the project.

Wind Concerns Ontario had proposed to carry out Phase II of the study which would involve follow-up measurements in homes identified as problematic by the Health Unit, as part of a research study by a multi-disciplinary team. Although federal government funding was not achieved for that proposal, efforts to fund that initiative are ongoing.

This project is the first of its kind in Ontario; it was initiated based on reports of adverse health effects by residents of Huron County made to their health unit, and is supported by them.

For more information about the Huron County Health Unit project please visit the website here.

 

Huron County Health Unit launches wind farm study

By John Miner

ONTARIO FARMER November 7, 2017

Huron County’s on-again, off-again study on the health impact of wind farms is moving ahead with warnings from the researchers about what it can’t accomplish.

Even if the results in the end definitely show that wind farms are damaging the health of residents, the county’s health unit will not be able to order the turbines stopped, a public meeting was told.

“We do not have the authority to curtail or shut down wind turbines. If you are thinking of participating in the study in the hope that we will shut down the turbines, we want you to understand we cannot do that,” Dr. Erica Clark, an epidemiologist with the Huron County Health Unit, announced at the start of a public information session attended by about 60 people.

Courts have determined that Ontario health units do not have the legal ability to issue orders to protect public health in cases where the provincial government has given that responsibility to another body, Clark said.

In the case of wind farms, the government has given the power to regulate wind turbines to the Ministry of the Environment, not public health units, she said.

Dr. Maarten Bokhout: “If research indicates there are health issues, that can be raised with the Ontario government”

Dr. Maarten Bokhout, Acting Medical Officer of Health at the Huron County Health Unit, said while he cannot step on the Environment Ministry’s toes and he does not have the power to write orders against wind turbines, the results of the study will be published online, including interim reports.

The health unit’s one-year study, established in collaboration with the University of Waterloo and reviewed by the university’s ethics committee, will look at how people are annoyed by noise, vibration and light [shadow flicker] from wind farms.

The goal is to establish how many people are bothered by wind turbines in the county and determine if environmental conditions that make the noise, vibration light and sensations from wind turbines worse.

The study will rely on residents living within 10 km of a wind turbine who volunteer to keep a diary of their experience within their own home.

Participants are asked to record their observations at least once a week.

The researchers will not be making any actual sound or vibration measurements for the study.

Huron County is home to more than 300 industrial wind turbines and some of the largest wind farms in the province.

Some residents have blamed the turbines for a series of health problems, including headaces, nausea, dizziness and insomnia.

Clark, who is principal investigator on the study, said they want participation from both people who have been bothered by wind turbines and those who haven’t experienced any problems.

The 10-kilometre study zone around wind turbines means thousands of Huron County residents are eligible to sign up for the project, including all of the towns of Goderich and Exeter.

See the print edition of Ontario Farmer for a related story: Rural residents skeptical government would act on wind

Ontario’s environment ministry: head in the (black) sand

As reports of contaminated well water in Chatham-Kent rise, the Ministry of the Environment is strangely silent. They can’t dodge this any longer

November 3, 2017

It must be getting harder and harder to work in Communications at the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) in Toronto: passing on all those media clips to management which then doesn’t respond, is not how they tell you things work in college or university.

Usually, when a company, or a government has a problem — especially with a public health issue — they meet it head on, and respond.

Not the MOECC.

A few months ago, we published a report that thousands of complaints of excessive noise and vibration from wind turbines were being ignored by the Ministry, with the staggering figure of actually NO RESPONSE for more than 50% of the citizen complaints, and a resolution rate of 1 %.

And over the summer and into the fall, the reports of problems with well water in Chatham-Kent continue to mount, as residents link the failed wells to wind turbine operation and construction.

“Black water” and heavy sediment is being found in 14 water wells near the North Kent wind power project, now under construction, which residents say is linked to vibration from pile-driving for the turbine foundations.

They’re not the only ones saying that: geoscientists and hydrologists are worried too, with one retired professional actually saying, he couldn’t believe they hadn’t stopped construction to get to the bottom of this issue.

The wind power developer claims no responsibility, relying on a consultants’ report which says well water interference is impossible.

Really, said another geoscientist. Speaking at a public meeting last week in Wallaceburg (where the province is thinking of approving another wind power project on the very same geology), Keith Benn said, If you have a model with predictions that are being countered by facts and evidence, it’s the model that might be wrong, not the facts.

This is serious business and, believe it or not, it is even worse than the situation described here.

Residents say there have been problems with well water since the first North Kent power project began but because most of the people having problems were leaseholders who had signed contracts with non-disclosure clauses about negative wind turbine effects, the well water problems were not public. So, a potential public health problem has gone unreported, essentially because the government gives a pass on most things to the “clients,” the wind power developers.

“People don’t back down when they’re protecting their water” [Photo: Council of Canadians]
The media is all over this story, with reports every week; residents are writing to the Ministry, complaining to the so-called “Spills” line, and even writing MInister Chris Ballard. Nothing but platitudes; promises to act, promises of testing, even, but no action.

Chatham-Kent’s Council is concerned, and worried about what a crisis in the water supply might mean for residents and taxpayers if the municipality is forced to supply municipal water to farms and homes formerly supplied by their own wells.

We think the Ontario government, and specifically this Ministry whose mandate it is to protect the environment and people’s health, should act.

Now.

But the Ministry has been notably Missing in Action.

WIND CONCERNS ONTARIO