Backlogged on wind farms, short of resources MOECC official admits
December 7, 2017
In response to an invitation from Council for the Municipality of Kincardine, a senior manager with Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change confirmed to Council that nothing is being done about the hundreds of recent noise complaints about a local wind power project.
Rick Chappell, manager of the Owen Sound District Office, told Council that there is no completed audit of compliance with noise regulations for the Enbridge Underwood project. This is despite the fact the facility has been operating since 2007, and the audit was requested by the Ministry in response to early complaints about excess noise emissions.
His presentation also acknowledged adverse health effects from the noise and vibration produced by wind turbines, including low frequency noise and infrasound. When questioned, he stated that there is no peer-reviewed evidence that infrasound causes direct health effects. He was unable to provide an answer when the Councillor followed up with a question asking if there were indirect health effects.
Chappell provided details of the long history of incomplete audit submissions for the Enbridge project. The earlier submissions were deemed to still be incomplete under the new protocol and the company has submitted additional data to meet the requirements with the last submission taking place on November 15. He indicated that Enbridge has been given a commitment of expedited processing and they expect a decision on whether their submissions are complete by mid-December. Analysis of their data would follow that decision.
The post-construction audit for the nearby Armow project was submitted three months ago and is under review in Toronto. At present, he said, that he could not provide an update on the assessment of this audit except to indicate that there has been no decision and he was not aware of the timeline for a decision.
The fact is, Chappell admitted, the Ministry group reviewing the audit reports has large backlog of reports submitted by the project operators from across Ontario based on the new noise testing protocol.
Chappell advised Council that the new protocol recommends that noise audit submissions are only made public once they are accepted by the MOECC. This is statement does not align with the protocol which actually requires posting of submissions to the Ministry be posted on the project website within 10 business days of the submission to the District Manager. Neither Enbridge nor the Armow submissions have been posted.
Once a compliance audit is underway, the MOECC stops responding to complaints from residents living in the project until the results of the audit are known. In his view, the potential for non-compliance has already been identified and until this situation is resolved, there is no point in additional testing. This approach applies to the Enbridge project even though the audit process started in December 2011 and is still not complete.
Once Councillor questioned the whole compliance audit process, indicating she believed that the process is designed to generate results that showed compliance. Her concern was the more than 500 complaints from residents of the Enbridge project that are now essentially being ignored by the MOECC. Even if the project was found to be in compliance, she was looking for action on these complaints based on the approval held by Enbridge. Chappell’s answer did not satisfy the residents in the audience.
Chappell indicated that compliance audit process was posted for public comment prior to the release of the April 2017. This statement overlooks many citizen submissions regarding flaws in the old process, including a lengthy brief from WCO, which were ignored by the MOECC meaning that the flaws in the original process were not connected and the audit process excludes situations that generate any resident complaints about noise emissions from wind turbines.
Another Councillor questioned what steps that the MOECC would take if, hypothetically the audit process found the project to be out of compliance. Chappell indicated that the MOECC would ask the company to submit a mitigation plan to address the issues. Changes could be reduced operating speeds, shut-downs of problem turbines in specific wind conditions or times of the day. When pressed about the time required for this type of plan to be developed, implemented and approved by the Ministry, Chappell suggested that it would be weeks rather than months.
The situation is similar to many other wind power projects in Ontario where complaints have been filed by residents for years, with no resolution and in some cases, no action by the Ministry. Documents released under Freedom of Information to Wind Concerns Ontario show that there are now at least 500 formal reports of excessive noise and vibration from the Armow wind turbines.
The wind turbine in Port Elgin, operated by union Unifor, is also the subject of hundreds of complaints with no resolution — and no valid noise audit. “You are the regulator,” Deputy Mayor Luc Charbonneau has told the MOECC. “You are failing to regulate.”