Environment Commissioner dead wrong on wind turbine health impacts
A pro-wind lawyer, now Ontario’s Eco Commissioner, makes unsupported statements on the health impacts of wind power generation facilities
April 10, 2018
Ontario’s Eco Commissioner or ECO, environmental lawyer Dianne Saxe, long known for her support of wind power development, has issued a very unusual and interestingly timed report.
Making Connections: straight talk about electricity in Ontario is an unabashed defence of the Ontario government’s energy policy, even with its criticism that government has not done enough.
We will leave it to others to comment on the statements about electricity demand, the supply mix, and whether selling off surplus power actually costs Ontario taxpayers and electricity ratepayers, but when it comes to the issue of the health impacts of wind turbines, we have no choice but to call out the Commissioner’s (deliberate) exclusion of the facts.
While acknowledging that there are some negative impacts from wind turbine construction and operation, such as the building of access roads, and the effect of turbines on bird and bat populations, when it comes to effects on humans, the ECO relies on a lawyer’s view of the evidence, which to her, is strictly the results of appeals before the quasi-judicial Environmental Review Tribunal or ERT.
“After extensive expert evidence, and having considered numerous studies from around the globe, the ERT has consistently dismissed appeals based on alleged harm to human health,” says the ECO. “The noise impacts of wind on people are controlled through noise limits in the REAs, and through mandatory setbacks established by the Environmental Protection Act.” (page 153)
What ECO Saxe neglects to say is that the basis on which to win an appeal on health before the ERT is virtually impossible.
One of the prime effects of exposure to the range of wind turbine noise emissions is sleep disturbance or sleep deprivation, which is widely acknowledged as a source of health problems such as high blood pressure, altered blood sugar levels, and annoyance or distress, which is in itself an adverse health impact. The situation in Ontario is that the moneyed wind power interests could afford to hire expert witnesses to support their side, while the appellants in these cases could usually only manage to have beleaguered citizens with their anecdotal reports of health effects. Any health care professionals who did venture forth to support these claims were badgered and had their professional qualifications questioned, sometimes merely on the basis of where they lived.
ECO Saxe asserts that there is extensive evidence and that there are numerous studies from around the world supporting the claim that there is no link between wind turbine noise and health effects.
This is false.
One expert witness, Dr Alun Evans, a professor emeritus, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines in Australia, and noted “A recent systematic review considered 154 published studies, eventually including 18 on the basis that they examined the association of wind turbines and human distress and were published in peer-review journals in English from 2003-2013. All found between wind turbines and human distress with levels of evidence of four and five (Bradford Hill Criteria). In addition, two of these studies showed a dose response relationship between distance from wind turbines and distress. Thus there is a consistent relationship between the proximity of turbines and human distress.”
In Ontario, Wind Concerns Ontario obtained thousands of reports from people living near wind turbines (in some cases, among them) via a request under the Freedom of Information Act process. WCO received over 4,500 records (though this number is almost certainly not complete) of complaints filed with the government since 2006.
The number of complaints is significant, but so too are staff notes in these documents. In total, explicit reference to the presence of health impacts from wind turbine noise emissions or environmental noise from the turbines was present in 35 percent of the reports we received.
We cannot help but question the political nature of this document. The ECO actually says, “the ECO strongly believes that fossil-fuelled generation, including the gas-fired generation that operates in Ontario, is more harmful to the environment than other electricity sources.” (page 150) In other words, there might be some problems but we have to accept them because the alternative is worse.
This is preposterous and flies in the face of the government’s mandate to protect both health and the environment.
Indeed, as a team of academics noted in their 2016 paper published in Nature Energy on how wind power problems were handled in Ontario, Ontario “public policy takes an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ view of [wind turbine noise and health] evidence rather than a more precautionary approach. … there is epidemiologic evidence t sustain various interpretations of wind turbine impacts on well-being.) Fast et al, Lessons learned from Ontario wind energy disputes, page 2).
One of the ECO’s goals is to ensure that the government of Ontario receives “fair, balanced and accurate information”.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has failed in that goal, and failed the people of rural Ontario who have been forced through political ideology to live in the midst of huge power plants that do produce environmental noise, and are linked to serious health impacts.
To contact us: Wind Concerns Ontario firstname.lastname@example.org