Wind Concerns Ontario is a province-wide advocacy organization whose mission is to provide information on the potential impact of industrial-scale wind power generation on the economy, human health, and the natural environment.
Incident reports released under Freedom of Information show government unable or unwilling to act on noise complaints from residents living near wind power projects
OTTAWA, May 31, 2017—
Documents recently released by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) under Freedom of Information show a deeply flawed process for responding to complaints of excessive noise levels from industrial-scale wind turbines, Wind Concerns Ontario says.
Documents released to Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of community groups and citizens, show that almost 3,200 reports of noise complaints were made in 2006-2014. In more than half, the government took no action.
“When Premier Dalton McGuinty brought in the Green Energy Act in 2009, he promised the people of rural Ontario to address concerns about health and safety from the turbines,” Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson said. “But they already had multiple complaints about wind turbine noise from 2006 onward, and they were unable and even unwilling to deal with them. This is failure of a government to protect people.
“Their goal appears to be protecting the interests of power development corporations instead.”
Ontario families called the MOECC hotline to report sleep disturbance, headaches, and dizziness from the wind turbine noise emissions. Some were desperate and reported not having slept for days, even weeks at a time.
The reports show, however, that ministry staff had no protocols or guidelines to deal with noise complaints and that high-level directives blocked staff from responding. Staff were told to rely on computer noise models provided by power developers instead of actual noise measurement.
“The noise models said that the turbine noise levels were safe, and within regulations,” Wilson explains, “but complaints continued — the Ministry did nothing. The MOECC chose power developers, their ‘clients,’ over Ontario families.”
Many reports referred to vibration or “pulsing” sensations from the huge turbines, but the MOECC restricted responses to audible noise alone.
“People just gave up and stopped calling,” Wilson, a Registered Nurse, says. “Then, in many cases, the Ministry simply closed their files. There was no help for these people from their government.”
A revised Compliance Protocol was released by the government on April 21, but contains no substantive change to the complaint process.
Wind Concerns Ontario recommends that no more approvals or Notices To Proceed be granted for wind power projects, and that the government develop and enforce new, tougher noise standards.
Wind Concerns Ontario is a coalition of community groups, families and individuals concerned about the effects of industrial-scale wind turbines on the environment, the economy, and human health.
Victoria Day weekend in Canada is a time for picnics and fun with family and friends, for many people.
One set of grandparents living on a farm in Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Township in Huron County thought that would be fun too, and were looking forward to having their two young granddaughters come and stay for a lovely weekend in the country.
But it was not to be.
Early on the morning of the holiday Sunday, the grandmother said, “there was a horrible tonal* noise — whine and whooing that made staying on the second level of our home intolerable.”
Later on that same morning, she said, she had “severe pressure and pain” in her ear.
Then, “Our eight year old granddaughter complained of a ‘sore forehead’.” The child has complained of sore ears at times in the past while visiting her grandparents’ home, but never at any other time.
Outside that morning the family discovered, the whining and whooing noise was everywhere.
“We had to leave here [our home] with those little girls,” the grandmother said.
“We have no freedom to do as we want in our private surroundings. It makes me weep.”
The family, who wishes to remain anonymous, like so many other families forced to endure the noise and vibration from wind turbines, have reported the turbine noise and vibration to authorities on numerous occasions. They live with 11 wind turbines within two kilometres of their home, the closest of which is just over 700 metres from the house.
On the Victoria Day weekend, they filed a complaint with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change District Office, and added this statement:
“You are harming us.”
Ontario Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray recently promised in the Legislature that his staff were responding to such complaints and that they would ensure the rules on noise emissions would be enforced.
Ontario families who did not ask to be exposed to these noise emissions deserve to have the Ministry fulfill its mandate, and protect all citizens from harm.
The Spills Action Line for the MOECC can be reached at 1-800-268-6060 to report excessive wind turbine noise, vibration and shadow flicker. If you call during business hours, you will be referred to the local Business Office. From the website:
You must report a spill if it:
harms or causes material discomfort to any person
injures or damages property or animal life
impairs the quality of the natural environment air, water or land
causes adverse health effects
presents a safety risk
renders property, plant or animal life unfit for use
leads to the loss of enjoyment of the normal use of property
interferes with the normal conduct of business
Pure tones are wave forms that occur at a single frequency. Tonal noise is generated by rotating equipment at a predictable frequency relating to the rotational speed of the shaft and the number of compressor vanes, fan blades, engine pistons, gear teeth, etc.
Surplus, exported power in April could have powered half of Ontario’s homes. Instead, it’s gone … and so is your money.
Ontario’s Minister of Energy claims that Ontario needs a “reliable, efficient and clean electricity system that comes from a number of sources” [sic] but the stats from this past April put the boots to any notion of wind power being “reliable” or “efficient.”
Parker Gallant and Scott Luft have both looked at the report from the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO, and found that not only was demand at an all-time low that month (the lowest since the IESO began keeping records) but also that curtailed wind power (power we pay the wind power developers for, but do not accept on the grid because it isn’t needed) was at an all-time high.
Two Auditors General have noted that wind power is produced out of phase with demand in Ontario—it seems things are just getting worse.
Here’s how Parker Gallant describes it on his Energy Perspectives blog:
For the month of April 2017, wind power generated and curtailed (521,056 MWh) was 1,374,873 MWh, for a cost of approximately $182 million.
Curtailed wind in April was the highest on record since we began paying for it back in September 2013!
Here’s the fatal math:
net exports of 1.3 million MWh +
the 521,000 of curtailed wind = 18.7% of total Ontario demand.
Combined, the 1,832,176 MWh at the HOEP price of $11.14/MWh and 1.11 cents/kWh and what do you get? Enough power for more than 2.4 million average households (over 50% of all households in the province) with their average need for power at a cost of only $8.35 — for the whole month.
Curtailment of wind is getting worse, as Scott Luft documents, in a chart from his Cold Air Online blog. Curtailment has doubled in the past three years–money for power we don’t need.
Analyst Marc Brouillette in a report prepared for Strategic Policy Economics on the supply mix for power in Ontario, said that ” over 70% of wind generation does not benefit Ontario’s supply capability, and wind generation will not match demand in the OPO Outlook future projections as 50% of the forecasted production is expected to be surplus.” (Page 20)
Seventy percent of wind does not benefit us, and fully 50% is surplus.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government claims they are trying to get electricity bills down, but it appears they are not considering the option of cutting costs.
The contracts given out for $3.3B in new wind power in 2016 should be cancelled, as well as contracts for any projects not yet built, such as the Amherst Island project which has been dubbed “the worst place” for wind turbines because of its effect on migratory birds and other wildlife, to say nothing of a heritage Loyalist community.
‘What you can’t hear, can’t hurt you’ notion shown to be false
The wind power industry, Health Canada, and the Ontario government insist that infrasound cannot be heard, and therefore it cannot hurt you.
CanWEA went so far as to pay for a study done by MIT in 2014, that concluded infrasound near wind turbines does not exceed audibility thresholds* and is therefore not a health risk.
Turns out, they are wrong.
All of them.
A paper just published by a team of German researchers, believed to be the first of its kind, documented “changes of brain activity across several regions in response to prolonged, near-threshold IS [infrasound] …”
The peer-reviewed paper, Altered cortical and subcortical connectivity due to infrasound administered near the hearing threshold – Evidence from fMRI, was published by a team of researchers led by Markus Weichenberger of the Max Plank Institute for Human Development.
“For decades,’ the research team wrote, “it has been a widely held view that IS [infrasound] frequencies are too low to be processed by the auditory system. … Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing consensus that humans are indeed receptive to IS and that exposure to low-frequency sounds can give rise to high levels of annoyance and distress.”
The authors then stated that the idea that sound needs to be perceived in order to exert effects on humans “falls short when aiming at an objective risk assessment of IS.”
The team then set out to investigate whether IS “near the hearing threshold” can affect brain activitiy and what the effects of stimulation might be.
” … our results also allow us to draw some preliminary conclusions on potential long-term health effects associated with (sub-)liminal IS stimulation. It has been reported in several studies that sustained exposure to noise can lead to an increase of catecholamine- and cortisol levels [114–116]. In addition, changes of bodily functions, such as blood pressure, respiration rate, EEG patterns and heart rate have also been documented in the context of exposure to below- and near-threshold IS [117–118]. We therefore suggest that several of the above mentioned autonomic reactions could in fact be mediated by the activation of brain areas such as the ACC and the amygdala. While increased local connectivity in ACC and rAmyg may only reflect an initial bodily stress response towards (sub-)liminal IS, we speculate that stimulation over longer periods of time could exert a profound effect on autonomic functions and may eventually lead to the formation of symptoms such as sleep disturbances, panic attacks or depression, especially when additional risk factors, such as an increased sensibility towards noise, or strong expectations about the harmfulness of IS are present.”
And, ” Transient upregulation of these brain areas in response to below- or near threshold IS may thus reflect an initial stress response of the body, eventually promoting symptom formation as stimulation occurs repeatedly and additional risk factor[s] come into play…”
Glenn Thibeault claims his energy policies saved lives. Photo: Darren MacDonald Sudbury.com
In a recent interview, Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault spoke in defence of his government’s energy policies, which he admits have been responsible for escalating electricity bills and creating “energy poverty” in the formerly prosperous province.
The Minister claimed that his government didn’t self-promote the benefits of its policies often enough, and offered some public health figures as proof.
“When I talk about energy,” the Minister said, “we don’t [talk] about the fact we haven’t had a smog day in three years. Our air pollution hospitalizations are down by 41 per cent, deaths are down 23 per cent.”
Parker Gallant took the initiative to query the Minister’s office on the source of those dramatic figures and learned that whoever provided them to Mr. Thibeault for “talking points” had actually taken them from a report which in turn referenced another report, which had nothing whatever to do with energy and electricity generation in Ontario.
The figures actually came from a report by Toronto Public Health on air pollution in that city, Gallant says in his Energy Perspectives blog.
Here is the relevant excerpt:
These estimates include the impact of pollution originating in other parts of Ontario and the United States and represent a decrease of 23% in premature deaths and 41% in hospitalizations as compared with 2004 estimates. Air pollution in Toronto comes mainly from traffic, industrial sources, residential and commercial sources, and off-road mobile sources such as rail, air, and marine sources. Of these sources, traffic has the greatest impact on health, contributing to about 280 premature deaths and 1,090 hospitalizations each year…”
To be sure, air pollution is a major concern in public health, but for a Minister of the Crown to misappropriate figures to bolster policy in another area entirely is unacceptable, and deceitful.
We recall again the fact that two Auditors General for Ontario chastised the government for having implemented a green energy program including highly invasive wind power projects in quiet rural communities against their wishes, with no cost-benefit analysis. The truth about health benefits might have shown up, if a real independent analysis had ever been done.
“…in the public interest … to remove from the REA turbines … in Blandings turtle habitat”
The Environmental Review Tribunal released its long awaited decision on the remedies proposed by wind power developer WPD for its White Pines project in Prince Edward County Ontario to protect the endangered Blandings turtle and Little Brown Bat.
Relevant sections of the decision:
 In light of all of the circumstances, based on the evidence provided and taking
into account the purposes of the EPA in support of environmental protection and
renewable energy, the Tribunal finds that it is in the public interest to alter the Director’s
decision by amending the REA in part. The Tribunal finds that it is in the public interest
to add the Approval Holder’s proposed Condition L2 to the REA, but to alter that
condition by removing Tables 3-1 to 3-3, in the NRSI Plan. The Tribunal further finds
that it is in the public interest to remove from the REA the turbines proposed to be
accessed by the proposed upgraded secondary and tertiary municipal road segments
and by the intersections in Blanding’s turtle habitat, specifically Turbines 12, 13, 14, 15,
Condition J7.1. The Company shall implement the Mitigation Plan
for Operation of the White Pines Energy Project, dated July 21,
2016 prepared by Stantec Consulting Ltd., including:
1. Implement the monitoring and mitigation measures as
outlined in Table 2 of the Mitigation Plan;
2. Adjust cut-in speed to 5.5 m/s between sunset and sunrise
from May 1 to September 30 at all turbines for the operating
life of the Project; and
3. In the event of a mortality of a bat species that is a species
at risk, successively increase the operational mitigation as
detailed in Table 2 of the Mitigation Plan.
The question that remains is, with 60 percent of the project effectively removed, how can WPD meet its obligation to provide 75 percent of the power in its contract?
The entire project may have to be reformulated…it remains to be seen whether the company will opt to do that by using 4.1 MW turbines perhaps, or by finding other locations, but the company may have run out of time to do that.
Here is a recording of lawyer Eric Gillespie’s closing remarks at the remedy hearing held in Wellington, last January. “The only remedy is to revoke [the approval]. … the result of mitigation will be to extirpate a species.”
As in, little or no understanding of the problems with wind turbine noise emissions.
On Friday, April 21, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change released a new protocol document intended for “assessing noise from wind turbines that have already been built. It is used by industry and ministry staff to monitor compliance.”
While in the absence of guidance for staff, and the complete lack of compliance audit information from wind power developers and operators, this is a step forward, the truth is, the protocol doesn’t change much.
the protocol still relies on audible noise only, when many of the complaints registered with the MOECC concern effects that are clearly linked to other forms of noise
the protocol does not take into account lower wind speeds, which is where problems are being experienced, particularly with newer, more powerful turbines
there is no comment on any sort of transition between the protocol that existed before and this one
the Ministry’s action in producing this protocol is an indication that they know they have a problem
the description of Ministry response is a good step forward
requiring wind power companies to actually have, and to publish, compliance audit documents could be a sign of expectations of greater accountability among the power developers/wind power project operators.
This table outlines the critical gaps in the new protocol document.
Assessment of noise at wind speeds between 4 m/s and 7 m/s
MOECC testing indicates problem noise starts below 3 m/s which is outside of wind speeds involved in the protocol.
Narrow time period assessed
Wide seasonal variations while wind turbine noise constant
Only test outside of home
Very different inside noise conditions
Uses criticized techniques
Narrow band analysis shows tonal noise present.
Resident concerns drive other MOECC procedures
Elevated levels of infrasound in homes
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change needs to acknowledge that there is a problem with wind turbine noise, and accept that it must play a role as a government agency charged with protecting the environment and people in it — preparing an industry-led document may look like a positive step, but this document does not meet the needs of the people of Ontario forced to live with wind turbines, and their noise emissions.
“A careful reading of this paper shows that the conclusions are not supported by the data provided …”
A paper by Jalali et al was published in the journal Environmental Research last year, concluding that psychological factors contributed to distress and changes in sleep pattern, not the actual wind turbine noise emissions. Many people already living close to wind turbines were disappointed (not to say, astonished) by its conclusions, particularly those who trusted the research team and allowed them into their homes in the hopes of a meaningful and accurate research study.
Engineer and Ontario resident William Palmer did a detailed analysis of the Jalali paper; his comments have just been published by Environmental Research.
It remains a continuing disappointment that ideology (wind power is good and trumps all other concerns) seems to underlie research into the growing public health/environmental health issue associated with industrial-scale wind turbines and the noise emissions they produce. It is also disappointing that researchers continue to look for “psychological” factors instead of taking a public health approach to doing real-world investigation into a real-world health effect.
We say, BELIEVE the complaints from people. Then look for the cause of the problems.
Short-Communication: Revisiting conclusions of the report titled, “The impact of psychological factors on self-reported sleep disturbance among people living in the vicinity of wind turbines”.
by Leila Jalali, Mohammad-Reza Nezhad-Ahmadi, Mahmood Gohari, Philip Bigelow, & Stephen McColl, published in environmental research, volume 148, July 2016, 401–410
The research report concluded, “It appears that self-reported sleep reported of participants may be associated to the indirect effects of visual and attitudinal cue and concern about property devaluation rather than distance to the nearest WT’s or noise as itself.”
Careful reading of the report shows that the conclusions presented are not supported by the data provided in the report.
The Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner recently released its first full Annual Report to the Parliament of Australia.
In the Summary, the Commissioner reported:
With regard to complaints received, our Office has received a total of 90 complaints about wind farms during the period up to 31 December 2016.
Of these 90 complaints received, 46 complaints were about operating wind farms and related to nine wind farms. As at 31 December 2016, a total of 32 of these complaints have been closed by our Office.
A further 42 complaints received by our Office were about proposed wind farms and related to 19 wind farms. As at 31 December 2016, 33 of these complaints have been closed by our Office.
The remaining two complaints did not specify a wind farm and have been closed.
Almost immediately, pro-wind forces in Australia claimed that the number of complaints noted was very small relative to what had been expected, and noted further that a significant number of the complaint files were closed because the individuals reporting chose not to pursue the matter further.
An obvious explanation for that is, like Ontario, people file complaints with the wind power developers and government but when their reports of adverse health effects and disturbance are met with inaction, they give up.
Conflict of interest
The Commissioner noted that the practice of using acoustics experts so developers may provide reports to government indicating compliance with noise regulations is open to a conflict of interest.
It is very common that the experts engaged to perform the design assessments and reports during the planning phase are the same experts engaged by the developer to perform the post-construction assessments. Developers often use the same experts on multiple projects.
The selection and use of the same expert in both the design and then operating phases of a wind farm may give rise to perceived or real conflicts of interest between the developer and the expert. As a compliance with the noise standard and is then engaged to assess the operating wind farm for actual compliance, may be placed in a difficult situation if the acoustician discovers the operating wind farm is in fact non-compliant, particularly if areas of non-compliance may be a result of errors made in the original acoustician’s pre-construction assessment.
There is certainly scope for a better separation between the experts used for the predictive assessments versus the experts used for the post-construction assessments of a wind farm, along with peer review of the expert’s work so as to minimise errors, maximise transparency and better manage perceived or real conflicts of interest. (page 28)
Wind power companies not managing complaints properly
What the pro-wind forces fail to point out too, is that the Commissioner was harsh in his criticism of how wind turbine noise complaints are managed by the wind power companies.
… our observations are that many wind farms are not following their own documented procedures when handling complaints, leading to situations including:
• multiple complaints from a resident about the same issue with no action being taken by the wind farm operator to investigate or resolve
a lack of rigour in investigations and correspondence, and
• a lack of clarity regarding next steps in the process leading to numerous complaints that remain unresolved and/or have not been closed.
Even if the endorsed complaint handling procedures were being followed, there is also a wide range of wind farm complaint handling procedures in place that vary by developer and project, resulting often in a lack of consistency in the quality and effectiveness of the procedures. Although wind farm operators possess a wide range of complaint handling skills, there are further opportunities to improve the capability of staff and effectiveness of the wind farm industry’s complaint handling procedures.
We have encouraged a number of wind farm developers and operators to voluntarily publish their complaint handling procedures on the wind farm’s website… (page 29)
Moreover, the Commissioner said, noise emission audits are not covering the full range of noise produced by the turbines, including “tonal” or “low frequency noise.”
In assessing noise-related complaints, the objective ‘tests’ currently in place do not necessarily capture the tonal character of noise emissions that a complainant may be experiencing. For instance, insufficient maintenance of infrastructure (for instance, a turbine or a substation transformer) may lead to harmonic frequencies that produce a harsher tone to the human ear. While this is not typically represented in noise assessment data, contemporary noise measurement or recording devices can be used to indicate that the tonal character of a particular noise emission may reasonably be considered to be disturbing or offensive to a complainant. (page 29)
Adverse health effects
As to specific adverse health effects reported, the Commissioner said that in the absence of actual medical reports it was difficult to make any conclusions.
Complaints regarding health concerns received by our Office, to date, have provided only anecdotal evidence regarding stated health issues and causality. It has therefore been difficult to confirm whether or not the stated health conditions reported by complainants are a direct result of the wind farm’s operations or from some other cause.
It is possible that stated health conditions may be caused by other known causes not related to the wind farm’s operations. Of concern is the potential situation whereby a resident may fail to seek and obtain appropriate medical advice for a treatable condition due to the possibly incorrect assumption that an operating wind farm is perceived as the cause of the health condition.
Health conditions may also arise as a result of stress, annoyance or anxiety related to the presence of an operating wind farm or concerns about the effects of a proposed wind farm. Further, uncertainties in relation to whether a proposed wind farm will actually proceed (a period which may extend for several years) may also contribute to stress and anxiety. Again, affected residents may need to seek appropriate medical treatment for their health conditions as well as seek ways to resolve their concerns.
The Commission recommended:
9.2.1. Federal and state governments should continue to assess the outcomes of research into wind farms and health, including outcomes of the two NHMRC funded wind farm health studies and recommendations of the ISCOWT. Environmental standards should be monitored and reviewed in line with any recommendations arising from these programs.
9.2.2. Residents living in the vicinity of an operating or proposed wind farm that are experiencing health conditions should be encouraged to seek appropriate medical advice to properly diagnose and treat any health-related conditions accordingly.
9.2.3. Medical practitioners who identify causational links between a patient’s health condition and their proximity to the operation of a wind farm should report such incidences in an appropriate way to the relevant professional body, association and/or government agency.
9.2.4. Residents who are experiencing unacceptable noise levels from a wind farm should be encouraged to report such incidents to the wind farm operator, the compliance authority and/or the appropriate regulator.
Don’t stop reporting
People wishing to report excessive noise or vibration from industrial-scale wind turbines should call the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change at 1-800-268-6060; if the call is placed during business hours, the caller may be referred to the local District Office.
The caller should receive an INCIDENT REPORT NUMBER.
The MOECC has told Wind Concerns Ontario that callers should be prepared to provide:
name and telephone number
direction of the wind
wind speed (this is available from the weather network on TV or on your “smart” phone)
location relative to the nearest turbine(s)
a rating of the noise and/or vibration/pressure on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most severe.