Saugeen Shores demands truth from MOECC on UNIFOR wind turbine noise
Documents released via FOI shows hundreds of noise complaints and possibility the turbine exceeds noise regulations
Shoreline Beacon, December 18, 2015
SAUGEEN SHORES –
Because “secrecy breeds mistrust,” Saugeen Shores Coun. John Rich wants “openness and transparency” from officials with the Ministry of Environment (MOE), and UNIFOR (formerly CAW), concerning previously undisclosed noise test results that “appear to reveal” the union’s Port Elgin industrial wind turbine has operated out of compliance with provincial noise regulations.
Through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Saugeen Shores Turbine Operation Policy (S.T.O.P) received data detailing 300 complaint-driven observations of noise emissions from the CAW/UNIFOR turbine. The Town’s Notice of Motion said “these observations appear to reveal several incidents where noise emissions from the UNIFOR turbine exceeded the noise standards set by the the MOE.. .which have not been previously disclosed either to the Town of the public at large.” The majority of complaints dealt with sleep disturbance, but also included reports of headaches, nausea, vertigo and other health-related issues.
S.T.O.P spokesman Greg Schmalz brought the information to Council in September at a community forum, and after a review of the data, Saugeen Shores Deputy-Mayor Luke Charbonneau, and Councillors John Rich and Mike Myatt, tabled a Notice of Motion at the Dec. 14 Council meeting to invite CAW/UNIFOR and the MOE to “share and review” the data at a meeting with the Town and S.T.O.P.
Regardless of support or opposition to wind energy, Coun. Rich said “you have to be in support of openness and transparency” by the MOE and CAW/UNIFOR, because “secrecy breeds mistrust.”
“What we want to see is more openness and opportunity for everyone to have discussion. If there is no problem, there is no issue, then things go the way they are. But if there is a problem, then it must be addressed at that time, but I think it’s important that we add a little sunlight to this and make sure we know what’s going on,” Rich said.
Deputy-Mayor Charbonneau said the “real nub” of their Motion is the existence of the FOI documents that “indicate, or at least gives the appearance, that the CAW/UNIFOR turbine has been operating in exceedence [sic] of its noise limits.”
He said that although the MOE required, and CAW/UNIFOR promised, third-party testing to verify turbine operation compliance, it is “concerning” that they have no evidence, and hopes the meeting will get the parties together to determine if the turbine is operating within the provincial guidelines.
Mayor Mike Smith recounted how CAW/UNIFOR had refused a past Town request for the resources to have independent testing done, and said there’s been no contact between the Town and CAW/UNIFOR for several years.
Speaking during the regular open forum prior to the Dec. 14 Council meeting, Schmalz said if the requested meeting occurs, S.T.O.P. will make “simple and reasonable” requests to address the main complaint of sleepless nights by shutting down the turbine from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
S.T.O.P also wants the peak daytime noise limit set at 40-decibels, which is the nighttime level for the rest of the province where a 550-metre buffer is required between wind turbines and residences. The setback was not in effect when the CAW/UNIFOR turbine received approval and began operating in April 2013.
Schmalz alleges a “cover-up” by the MOE and CAW/UNIFOR officials who promised “open and transparent” sharing of noise tests, yet S.T.O.P. had to make a FOI application to get the data that showed non-compliance.
“In my books, that’s called cover-up. It leads us to believe that the information that we obtained – which is non-compliant tests – was the norm, and they did not want to have it made public that the turbine was operating out of compliance, and still is, as far as we’re concerned,” Schmalz said, adding S.T.O.P. spent approximately $100,000 for independent noise testing and the FOI request “to get the truth.”
He said they are not asking CAW/UNIFOR to tear down the turbine – the company’s symbol of support for Green Energy and climate change – but don’t want that “mission to interfere with how people enjoy their lives.”
In a Dec. 17 telephone interview, Ken Bondy, UNIFOR’s National Co-ordinator for Health, Safety and Environment, said the claims of non-compliant turbine operations are “unsubstantiated.”
He had a problem with the word “appear” in the Town motion that said the test results “appear to reveal several incidents where noise emissions from the UNIFOR turbine exceeded the noise levels standards set by the MOE…”
“Just because complaints have been filed doesn’t mean the turbine was non-compliant,” Bondy said.
“Is there compliance, or is there not? The only body that would make that determination is the Ministry of Environment, which has now been alleged [to be] in a cover-up operation with the union,” Bondy said, pointing to a 2013 Health Canada study that found there were no harmful effects from turbines, but that “people are annoyed by the sight of them,” Bondy said.
He said, at this point, he is willing to meet with Town and Ministry officials, but not S.T.O.P. officials because of CAW/UNIFOR officials have “concerns meeting with groups that want to portray or publish information that is not factual.”
Officials with the MOE were not immediately available for comment.