Internal government documents show environment ministry was unprepared to take action on resident complaints about wind turbine noise
November 28, 2023
The Nation Rise wind power project was controversial even before it began.
Based on the experience of other communities in Ontario, Canada, and the thousands of formal complaints about noise, water well disturbance, and risk to wildlife, the citizens of North Stormont launched an appeal of the approval of the 100-megawatt wind power project.
Despite evidence showing that environmental noise pollution was a possibility (and already occurring elsewhere) due to the prototype large turbines proposed for the project, or that the project would be situate on a designated “vulnerable” aquifer, or that there was a risk to endangered species of bats, the appeal was denied.
Then, the Minister of Environment for Ontario stepped in and reversed the approval due to concerns about wildlife.
The wind power developer took the matter to court, and, in spite of the fact that a Minister of the Crown, the minister of the agency responsible for the approval in fact, had expressed serious concerns about the project, he lost.
From the first days: noise
The complaints from the community about environmental issues began in the construction stage when the project workers ran trucks and built roadways and foundations at late hours.
Then, when the testing phase began prior to the final Commercial Operation Date for the project, there were citizen complaints about noise and vibration.
Wind Concerns Ontario filed a request under Freedom of Information legislation for government documents created in the first six months of 2021, to review what the complaints said, and what action was taken.
““I cannot bear the thought of living through this in the summer,” said one resident in a formal complaint to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks in January of 2021.
And in March, a resident noted:
“I am logging my third noise complaint and Nation Rise is not even operational yet.”
Things were worsening by May, according to this complaint, excerpted from a report from the government’s Spills Action Centre:
“May 21,11 pm—noise from XXX described by Caller as ‘brutal’. Caller noted very high winds and had to shut the windows to block noise. Caller reports noise is there 24/7 …”
Most of the complaints featured mentions of health impacts or used words like “feel”, which implies the presence of adverse health effects. As well, most of the complaints were made at night, or during the day referring to the experience at night, which suggests sleep disturbance, another cause of adverse health impacts if experienced over time.
“I am so tired I am XXX almost every day feeling the need to rest and worst of all when the turbine is running I am having XXXXXX”
“I have repeatedly reported sleep annoyance and heart issues when the turbines are running…”
“At times the noise is unbearable. I have developed health issues to where I am now XXX and am seeing XXX. I don’t even have to be outside to know when the turbines start XXXXXX”.
Precise descriptions of the adverse health effects have been redacted by unknown parties. Staff are allowed to redact documents to protect privacy, but it is unclear as to why health effects were blocked in these formal complaints.
The documents retrieved show that the ministry staff seemed to be poorly prepared for the complaints about noise pollution that arose. Staff did not seem to be clear on the process for managing complaints, or on what the responsibilities of both the government as regulator or the wind power operator were, exactly.
In one incredible instance, a “senior” Environmental Officer actually asked the wind power operator for help.
The Officer also offered varying directions to citizens as to how to file noise complaints. People were told to call the operator, not the government (even though the environment ministry is the regulator), and not to call the Spills Action Centre.
One citizen emailed the officer:
“You had told me not to call the Spills Line but yet on the Report pollution online page they do have an option to report by calling 1-800-MOE-TIPS. Could you explain why it says on the website we can call to make a complaint and you say not to?”
Wind Concerns Ontario has produced a report on the documents. The report was sent weeks ago to the new minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, to the MPP for North Stormont, Nolan Quinn, and to the ministry staff director responsible for compliance with regulations.
No response has been received to date.
Seventeen years of noise
“This is a sad, sad story,” says Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson. “As a Registered Nurse, I was very disturbed to see the progression of noise complaints from people asking whether this noise was going to continue, to people calling and describing serious adverse health effects. They wanted help, they wanted the government to follow its own process to protect the community and the environment —that didn’t happen.
“It is particularly worrying to see that staff seemed to want to respond but received little preparation or support. It raises concerns about the environment ministry’s role as a regulator, especially in light of, now, 17 years of complaints about wind turbine noise from the people of Ontario.”
Read the Wind Concerns Ontario report here: