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.
‘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…”
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.
Testing being done for audible noise alone–residents’ symptoms indicate other problems
Two Ontario municipalities are supporting the call for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to do comprehensive testing for the full range of noise emissions from wind turbines.
Last night, Kincardine Council supported residents Norma and Ron Schmidt, who have been forced from their home because of adverse health effects from the noise and pressure produced by turbines near them, in sending a letter to the Ministry.
The situation echoes that of Port Elgin where hundreds of complaints have been filed with the Ministry about the turbine on the property owned by Unifor. The municipality of Saugeen Shores has repeatedly asked the Ministry to conduct the necessary investigations, to no avail.
“The government said they were safe”
See the video by CTV London reporter Scott Miller here.
In the January edition of respected publication Sound & Vibration, is an article “Health Effects from Wind Turbine Low Frequency Noise & Infrasound,” published by four authors billed as :”very experienced independent investigators.”
The debate about adverse health claims has “raged for at least a decade,” the authors write, “and is now at an impasse.”
“Permitting authorities for new projects must evaluate adverse health effect claims presented as proven factual data by opposition forces, countered by project advocates who state that no physical link to health effects has ever been demonstrated”.
The lead author, George Hessler of Virginia, USA, says that all four authors “do not doubt for a moment the sincerity and suffering of some residents close to wind farms and other low-frequency sources…this is the reason all four would like to conduct, contribute or participate in some studies that would shed some light on this issue.”
“It must also be said,” Hessler continues, “that it is human nature to exaggerate grievances …”
Responses are being developed by various individuals, including colleagues involved in acoustics, and citizen groups, which we will publish when available.
Wind Concerns Ontario sent a letter to the editor expressing concern that although the word “health” is in the article title, and is the focus of the paper, not one of the four authors has any medical expertise. Moreover, WCO said, the methodology proposed by the authors fails to “include current directions of research on the rapidly changing understanding of wind turbine noise.”
“Based on the reports of the impact of wind turbines on the people living among the many Ontario projects,” WCO president Jane Wilson wrote, “we know that the emissions from wind turbines are challenging existing methodologies and analysis paradigms used by acousticians. The range of sound pressure waves emitted by wind turbines are multi-dimensional; a full understanding of the issue can come only from acousticians who are willing to move outside of existing procedures and investigate complaints without preconceived notions of answers when working on the topic.
“It is not clear that the authors of the article were willing to do this.”
Wind Concerns suggested to the Editor, and the authors, that a good starting point is to “assume that people’s complaints are valid”; we also referred to the work done in Australia by Steven Cooper. As well, reliance on A-weighted noise measurement is no longer adequate to really assess the type of noise emissions produced by industrial-scale wind turbines.
A resident of Dover Centre in Chatham-Kent is calling for leaseholders in wind turbine projects to be released from the non-disclosure or “gag” clauses that are preventing full awareness of the situation regarding contaminated well water in the region, says a resident writing in the Sydenham Current.
When the recent appeal of the North Kent 1 wind power project was dismissed, the only expert advice offered was the technical report completed by Golder & Associates, paid for by the wind power developer.
“What if accepting the wind developer’s Golder report the Mayor and Mr. Norton put all of Chatham township’s property at risk from an environmental stigma?” asks letter writer Peter Hensel.
” A stigma that the aquifer below would be contaminated with vibrations and is no longer capable of providing safe clean water. You think your property won’t drop like a stone in value? Think again.
“What if accepting the Wind developer’s Golder report the Mayor and Mr Norton allowed pile driven turbine foundations that increased the heavy metal concentrations in the source water – the water in the aquifer below Chatham township? What price do you put on your families’ health?”
The Environmental Review Tribunal refused appellant Kevin Jakubec time to have other experts review the Golder report, which jeopardized his appeal.
“It was only because the MOECC [Environmental] Tribunal Branch refused a time extension to let Mr. Jakubec bring in well test results from Dover into the Trubunal’s final hearing did Mr. Jakubec make the best of Tribunal process and took what gains he could get from the mediation.
“Ask Mr. Jakubec if he stopped investigating Dover,” says Mr Hensel. “Ask Mr. Jakubec if the Tribunal process is fair and that everything is neatly wrapped up now as Mayor Hope and [C-K legal counsel] Mr. Norton would want you to believe.”
WCO vice-president Parker Gallant and president Jane Wilson speak on Ontario’s mismanaged electricity sector, energy poverty, wind turbine noise regulation, and what’s ahead for 2017
Wind Concerns Ontario
Q:You’ve been telling people about the impact of renewables, specifically wind power, on Ontario’s electricity or hydro bills. How much of our electricity bills is due to the wind power/renewables program in Ontario?
Parker Gallant: I recently reviewed the cost of wind and solar generation relative to its contribution to Ontario’s demand for electricity and its impact on our electricity costs is shocking. Wind and solar in the first six months of 2016 delivered 8% of our generated power and represented 35% of the Global Adjustment which appears set to average over $1 billion per month. That represents a cost of over 36 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh), including the hourly Ontario energy price (HOEP).
Q: Parker, you’ve also been telling people about the Global Adjustment or GA, which is where a lot of charges are hidden. Do you think these charges should be detailed on our bills, or is that even possible?
Parker Gallant: While I believe in principle the GA should be revealed on our monthly bills, in practice, that would require reams of paper. How will the local distribution company explain how much you are billed for curtailed wind generation or the meteorological stations that measure the amount of curtailed wind that might have been generated? How to explain, say, the cost of spilled hydro or steamed off nuclear or the water fuel fee, or how to tell the ratepayer how much they are subsidizing the rates for large industrial clients, or what it is costing under the rural and remote rate plan (RRRP) that transports diesel fuel to remote First Nations, among dozens of other items included in our monthly bills?
Q: The Premier and Energy Minister are now saying that parts of their policies have been a “mistake” and that they need to get bills down. Wind Concerns is saying that canceling wind power contracts is necessary for that to happen. Can you explain? How much are the 2016 contracts worth?
Parker Gallant: Interesting they are now admitting a “mistake,” but when George Smitherman was Energy Minister he was provided with a long-term energy plan that had been carefully developed by “experts” within the crown agencies. He chose to cancel the plan and instead, impose one developed in conjunction with outsiders who were NOT experts. Previous Energy Ministers (Dwight Duncan comes to mind for his “smart meter” for every ratepayer) made mistakes, as did those who followed such as Brad Duguid and were roundly criticized by both the media and by ratepayers. The canceling of wind power projects not yet built or even contracted is only “step one” and will slow the climb in our bills. The current Minister, Glenn Thibeault has only suspended Large Renewable Procurement or LRP ll, and needs to cancel it, as well as LRP I and any of those contracts now past their agreed-to start date. There are ways to reduce costs almost immediately.
Jane Wilson: Wind Concerns Ontario prepared a detailed document for the IESO on the Long-Term Energy Plan, suggesting ways they could save $1.7 billion annually. That would have an immediate cost reduction impact.
Q: The Energy Minister says that now, Ontario is a “net exporter” of electricity like that’s a good thing. He claims we’re making money: is that true?
Parker Gallant: Being a “net exporter” of 16.8 terawatts (TWh) in 2015 is simply a demonstration of being a bad planner and manager of the system. If one adds the spilled hydro and curtailed wind to the net exports, the 21.2 TWh could have provided over half of all average Ontario households with power for a full year, yet we sold it 2.36 cents/kWh while we paid 10.14 cents/kWh for its generation. Ontario contracted for far too much intermittent and unreliable wind and solar power creating a domino effect the increased our costs of generation. Paradoxically, if Ontario ratepayers consumed more of the annual excess power (15.5% in 2015) it would help reduce our per kWh cost.
Q: What is WCO’s stance on climate change?
Jane Wilson: Our position is that everyone wants to do the right thing for the environment, whether that is preventing air pollution or using the most efficient forms of power generation — but that isn’t industrial-scale wind. For example, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers or OSPE says that the proliferation of large-scale wind will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions, therefore not achieving the government’s stated goals. In the OSPE’s most recent report, they say “Wind generation offers less GHG reduction value in Ontario because base-load generation is already carbon-free and wind generation often displaces hydroelectric and nuclear base-load generation.”
Q: Why does the Ontario government continue to force wind turbines on communities that don’t want them?
Jane Wilson: The government is acting on an ideology that is not supported by fact and to do that, it erased communities’ right to local land-use planning with the Green Energy Act. We think that’s wrong, and are supporting the now 116 municipal governments that have demanded a return of that control and also that community support be mandatory for wind power contracts. There is a concern too about communities in the North where there may not be elected municipal governments, where contracts can be awarded for wind power projects that have a significant negative impact on the natural environment, for little or no benefit.
WCO worked with Ontario municipalities on the mandatory support resolution.
Q:Can the government really cancel wind power contracts? Can a new government cancel the subsidy programs?
Jane Wilson: Yes. There are clauses in the contracts under LRP I that are “off-ramps” in the case of cancellation, and which set out the financial steps needed to do that. For example, the contract with EDP for the “Nation Rise” project south of Ottawa in North Stormont, worth $430 million over 20 years, would cost $250,000 plus reimbursement for development costs that must be justified, to a maximum of $600,000. And yes, government can cancel subsidy programs. The LRP II, now “suspended”, should be cancelled outright.
The other opportunity is to cancel wind power projects that do not have a “Notice-to-Proceed”: this is straightforward. WCO has also suggested to the IESO that the government look seriously at all contracts and review them for opportunities to cancel. Even costly negotiated buy-outs will reduce hydro costs significantly, due to the high cost of disposing of surplus power.
Q: What is WCO doing to help people already living with wind turbines, and the noise they produce?
Jane Wilson: We support the public health investigation being done by the Huron County Health Unit, and hope that other municipalities will take similar action. We are also looking at how research can be done to help change the Ontario regulations on noise –which are not based on current science and in fact, are completely inadequate to protect health. We prepared a detailed document on how to revise noise enforcement regulations, another on how the approval process must be changed to protect health, and we submitted a document to the World Health Organization which is preparing global noise regulations for wind turbines. In short, we take every opportunity possible to explain the situation for people living in communities where wind turbines and their noise emissions have been forced, without consent, on the people of Ontario, with the goal of having regulations and processes changed.
Q: What’s ahead in 2017?
Jane Wilson: It’s a very different world for wind power now, than in 2009 when the Green Energy Act was passed. People are genuinely questioning the benefit of high-impact, large-scale wind power development, especially when there seem to be few, if any, benefits, and we are seeing the shocking results of the government’s complete mismanagement of the electricity sector such as lost jobs and rising energy poverty. We believe the government will have to take dramatic action if it is serious about getting electricity bills down. The fact that Ontario municipalities are speaking out on this issue and taking action will also have results, we believe. We are hoping for a complete halt to the ongoing damage of the government’s policies, and that there will be help for people already living with the noise and other impacts of industrial-scale wind turbines.
As for Wind Concerns Ontario, we are not stopping our work.