Port Elgin residents demand answers on Unifor wind turbine
Complaints continue even after noise abatement plan in effect
April 24, 2019
The single wind turbine located in Port Elgin at an education and conference centre owned and operated by union Unifor continues to rack up complaints from nearby residents, despite being found “in compliance” by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP).
In an email to the spokesperson for community group STOP/ Saugeen Turbine Operation Policy, the MECP noted that the turbine, which has a history of hundreds of noise complaints filed with the government, was found to be out of compliance with provincial regulations, and a noise abatement plan was put in place last year.
“Unifor was required to prepare and implement a Noise Abatement Action Plan due to non-compliance identified with ministry noise guidelines. From May 8, 2018 to present, Unifor has been operating the turbine with the following parameters: de-rating the turbine to 300 kW during all time periods; and curtailment (zero revolutions per minute) when the yaw angle of the turbine (wind direction) is between 100 and 220 degrees during all hours,” Environmental Officer Sierra Gillies wrote in an email dated April 23.
The ministry has since determined that the Unifor turbine is in compliance with the ministry noise guidelines when operating under the Noise Abatement Action Plan, according to more recent noise testing, Gillies said.
She acknowledged that since May 8, 2018, the ministry has received notification of 99 complaints regarding the Unifor turbine, but says not all the reports were about noise.
Problems not resolved
The problems of the single turbine are not resolved, says STOP spokesperson Greg Schmalz. In the five years of operation, the turbine has been de-rated from its original approved 800 kW to 500 and now to 300, a demonstration that problems persist with this power generator, he says, and that there are larger, serious problems with Ontario’s wind turbine noise regulations and noise measurement protocol.
He has asked the MECP to explain how the Unifor turbine could have been originally approved at modelling noise levels of 45 dB or less at the nearest homes at the 800 kW power output and approved at 45 dB again at 500 kW and yet again at 45 dB at 300 kW after noise non-compliance was found at the 500 kW level.
“As evidenced by our residents’ continued filing of both noise and negative health effects complaints, it appears this single turbine sited in a cottage resort neighbourhood with an ambient nighttime noise level of 27 dB, was most likely improperly classified by the ministry as an urban environment, with a noise level the same as downtown Toronto at 45 dB.
Given the large number of complaints — Wind Concerns Ontario data for noise complaints up to 2016 show the Unifor turbine ranks sixth in the entire province for the number of complaints — Schmalz has demanded the MECP explain why the neighbourhood near the turbine has an urban classification at 45 dB versus rural classification at 40 dB.
“The ambient night noise levels of 27 dB are common to both rural and urban areas and by definition the nighttime noise characteristics of both classifications are the same after 7 p.m.,” Schmalz explains.
No health protection
“We believe this is the critical sleep protecting criterion MECP weight for correct classification. So, outside our bedroom windows here, the quiet night soundscape of 27 dB is pierced by the unnatural continuous swish-thump of a machine emitting noise at up to 45 dB. And, with sound levels doubling every 3 dB, that extra 5 dB in the urban classification vs rural means our residents are subjected to noise over twice as loud as the noise that our nearby rural residents are exposed to. The complaint evidence clearly shows it is a noise nuisance disrupting sleep, preventing enjoyment of property, and the continued stress of interrupted sleep is recognized to have negative health effects which residents here are documenting in their complaints,” says Schmalz.
Schmalz also points out that the Unifor turbine is as close as 215 metres to a house, whereas the setbacks for the rest of the province are now 550 metres. In other words, the turbine would not have been allowed under more recent rules.
“This unequal treatment really is a form of discrimination against people here in Port Elgin,” he concludes.
Contact STOP here.
Government records of complaints about the Unifor wind turbine, as obtained under Freedom of Information legislation by Wind Concerns Ontario.
May 22, 2016: “…the Unifor Industrial Wind Turbine is again noisy producing a thumping pulse … we have been subjected to headache from the constant pulse of the wind machine. This situation continues to be unacceptable …” Ministry response: May 22, 2016: “The wind turbine was not experiencing any operational difficulties at the time of the incident. No sound monitoring was being conducted at the time of the incident. Deferred sound monitoring; audit to occur with acoustic report expected fall of 2016.” Environmental Officer Kimberly Pietz. [Note the provincial Officer is aware of adverse health effects, and takes no action.]
February 18,2016: Provincial/Environmental Officer notes “… the complainant heard a constant thumping noise throughout his home. This noise caused headaches. No exact time frame, stated 16th and 17th.” Staff response: site visit February 16: “… turbine barely audible at time of site visit did not monitor.” Site visit began 20:11, concluded 20:33. Provincial Officer signature: Kimberly Pietz [Note mention of adverse health effect, also focus on audible noise despite complaint mention of pressure sensation and adverse effect]