Wind farm developers’ expert witness self-interest questioned in appeal
Christopher Ollson was paid $20,000 to review documents and appear as an expert witness in the Gunn’s Hill appeal, as he has for other wind power developers. Trained in chemical toxicology, Ollson admitted before the Tribunal that he has taken “one course” in epidemiology and “one lecture” in acoustics. He is not a health professional, is not licensed by any health professional regulatory body.
Woodstock Sentinel-Review, July 16, 2015
The fate of the proposed Gunn’s Hill wind farm is now in the hands of the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), because as of Thursday the agency had heard from all witnesses from both sides scheduled to make testimony.
Representative on behalf the appellant, Ian Flett, said they had put their evidence before the tribunal and that it was now up to the tribunal what to do with that evidence.
Albert Engel, representative on behalf of the proponent, said they had brought a motion to dismiss the appellant’s case based on a lack of evidence, and that they were looking forward to see how the tribunal dealt with that.
“We put in our evidence, which we feel fully supports our position,” Engel said, “and at this point we’re required to prepare and submit our final written submissions.”
The appellant and director for the Ministry of the Environment are also expected to prepare and submit their final written submissions as well.
The tribunal wrapped early after hearing from three witnesses on behalf of the proponent.
The first to appear on the stand was Dr. Robert McCunney, a medical professional based out of Boston. Dr. McCunney appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the proponent, with specific expertise in occupational and environmental medicine.
During his testimony, Dr. McCunney said annoyance is not an adverse health effect.
“Annoyance is a term that’s used in outcome measures of various types of research studies,” he said. “It’s usually gleaned by completing a questionnaire. In the context of wind turbines, there have been questionnaires that asked people whether they’re annoyed, very annoyed or slightly annoyed. It’s the answers to those questions that are used as part of the studies.”
Dr. McCunney did say, though, that annoyance could lead to other adverse health effects, such as stress.
“It’s a theoretical proposition that if annoyance is protracted or continual without abatement, clearly some people can be stressed as a result of that. And then of course stress, in and of itself, if it’s chronic, can lead to certain health problems in some people.”
As for research, Dr. McCunney said he looked at research in other papers and tried to apply it to the situation here – notably in regards to estimated noise levels in the area near residents close to the turbines.
During his cross-examination, Flett asked Dr. McCunney about his research and if he has met patients who have complained about adverse health effects from industrial wind turbines.
“If he’s a medical doctor and the name of the game for him is meeting with patients, he did not suggest to us that he has met a single person who has complained about the adverse health impacts of an industrial wind turbine,” Flett said. “So why is a medical doctor drawing conclusions based merely on other people’s work when he’s perfectly qualified to ask those people who are complaining about these effects… and come to a conclusion on how they are being impacted.”
Also mentioned during Dr. McCunney’s cross-examination, as well as on Tuesday during Dr. Christopher Ollson’s cross-examination, Flett brought up that they were both being paid for their testimony as expert witnesses.
“The law in Canada… is that experts are expected to be there to assist the decision maker in making its decision,” Flett said. “They’re not there on my behalf or on the approval holder’s behalf to persuade the decision maker… So at the end the day you ask yourself, is this expert motivated in some way for more work based on the outcomes (they) can achieve in court or at tribunals.
“And sometimes we ask ourselves, well how much are you getting paid and is the payment such that we can question the weight and the veracity of your testimony,” he added.
Ultimately, the tribunal felt this was not relevant to its decision, which Flett said he respected. He added that when there is an expert who testifies for one side “time-and-time again,” while being paid for it, it needs to be asked what their interest is in the evidence they are giving.
Following Dr. McCunney was Rochelle Rumney, an environmental coordinator with Prowind who appeared as a fact witness on behalf of the proponent.
Rumney said during her testimony that no endangered species would be harmed as a result of this project.
“We did a field survey to determine if there was any risk to species habitat or the species themselves,” she said. “And the (ministry) confirmed that there was no risk with this project.”
In addition, Rumney said they prepared a confidential study regarding endangered species as well, which was also submitted to the ministry.
“It was mentioned in one of the witness statements that we hadn’t looked at species at risk,” Rumney said, referencing concerns raised by John Eacott in his witness statement. “But we had, and I think it… just wasn’t available for them to review.”
Rumney also mentioned the little brown bat, an endangered species that was found to be located near one of the proposed turbine sites, which she said will not be harmed during construction.
During her cross-examination, Flett asked whether or not Rumney would rely on an electrician or welder to identify any species at risk found during turbine construction.
“If there is an obligation to report the presence of a species at risk during construction… you’ve got to know if that bird or that bat is the actual species,” Flett said. “If the concern is that we need to protect endangered species, we need to know where they are. And with all due respect to all of the electricians, welders, lawyers and reporters out there, none of those people have the qualification to say one species is exactly what one says it is.”
The final witness to appear before the tribunal was vice president of Prowind Juan Anderson, who appeared as a fact witness on behalf of the proponent.
During his testimony, it was brought out that Anderson has been with Prowind since 2009 and became vice president in 2012. To date he has worked on 10 wind turbine projects – both completed and in construction – across Canada.*
Anderson also described the turbine layout during his testimony and how it was changed with regards to Curries Aerodrome.
“We deliberately position turbines in a manner that would still allow our land owners to host turbines on their property, but allow for space for the aerodrome to operate,” he said. “Our intention was to strike a balance between those two.”
In addition to placement, Anderson also described the type of turbines that would be implemented in the proposed wind farm. The Senvion MM92 have a 92.5 metre rotor with a 100-metre hub height and 102.0 DBA maximum sound power level, according to Anderson.
He added that they are predicted to generate sound 1.6 DB before the maximum limit of 40 DB at 38.4 DB.
Anderson also indicated that Senvion has said there have been no fully developed fires in its fleet of turbines.
A decision is expected from the tribunal sometime next month.
*WCO Editor’s note: we’d like to know where these 10 projects are supposed to be. Prowind has never actually built anything in Canada. The closest the company got was the South Branch project which was sold to EDP Renewables.