Wind Concerns Ontario is a province-wide advocacy organization whose mission is to provide information on the potential impact of industrial-scale wind power generation on the economy, human health, and the natural environment.
Complaint process for wind turbine noise inherited by the Ford government not effective
April 12, 2021
Wind Concerns Ontario has just released its latest report on how the Ontario government has responded to citizen complaints about excessive wind turbine noise from grid-scale wind power projects.
Warning: the contents of this report can make for difficult reading.
The excerpts of comments from people calling into the 24/7 Spills Action Centre telephone line, or sending emails to their local District Office of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks are an alarming demonstration of the desperation felt by families forced with the wind turbine noise—some of them, for many years.
“We ache all over and can hardly function we are so tired. Please tell us what to do. Please respond.”
“Noise described as a ‘whooing’ sound, both heard and felt.”
“This continues to be horrendous.”
“Caller reports a pulsing roar.”
“This is the 65th time they have called.”
“We can’t go on like this.”
Polluted acoustic environment
One complaint documented was from a technician hired to do monitoring of bat populations near Bow Lake, who questioned whether he/she could continue the work due to the “acoustic pollution” from the wind turbines. The wind turbines were “generating unacceptably intrusive and potentially dangerous noise emissions into the natural environment,” the person reported. This is a “polluted acoustic environment.”
This report is based on Incident Reports created in 2018, received as the result of a request under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. The request was filed in January 2019; we received almost 4,000 pages of documents this past March. The report is fourth in a series, examining ministry response back to 2006.
It’s not working
The overarching conclusion from examining the complaint records as a whole is that Ontario’s complaint monitoring process, which the current government inherited from previous administrations, is not working. Key findings:
Complaints about wind power projects are part of the process government promised would ensure protection of health and safety. Robust enforcement of the regulations in response to these complaints will fulfill that responsibility.
In total, almost 6,000 files of complaints about wind turbine noise, vibration and sound pressure have been released to Wind Concerns by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
39 percent of complaints in 2018 noted adverse health effects.
The records show that complaints do not result in real action by the project operators, despite requirements of approvals for the project.
The process to accept and record citizen complaints is inconsistent, and information gathered is incomplete.
There appears to be no ministry-wide evaluation and review process for citizen complaints about environmental noise produced by wind turbines.
The report concludes with recommendations on how the complaint handling process could be improved as an enforcement tool, and could provide opportunities to act on other issues such as electricity costs.
Health Canada released an update today on progress toward “modernization” of the Radiation Emitting Devices Act or REDA.
A consultation process was held last year in which the public and stakeholders could submit opinions and recommendations. Wind Concerns Ontario submitted a document which gave an overview of wind turbine proliferation in Ontario, and resulting complaints about noise and vibration.
Health Canada received 20 submissions from a variety of participants including interest groups and professional associations.
“Although many of the special interest groups and individuals expressed general support for strengthening the provisions of REDA,” Health Canada said, “concerns were raised in relation to the application of REDA to address noise emissions from wind turbines. Respondents expressed a desire to ensure that the provisions of REDA, specifically the general prohibition and notification requirements, apply to wind turbines as well as other products that emit tonal infrasound.”
Wind Concerns Ontario referred to numerous federal documents including the Health Canada wind turbines and noise study published in 2014 and the 2015 Council of Canadian Academies report, which both acknowledged problems with wind turbine noise emissions. Current protocols for monitoring noise from the turbines do not capture the full range of emissions, the Council noted.
Wind Concerns Ontario said:
There are processes in place for the people of Canada to report adverse reactions or adverse effects from the use of medications and medical devices, and to report problems with machinery or other equipment that pose a risk to health. In the case of wind turbines in Ontario, there have been thousands of reports of problems with exposure to wind turbine noise emissions.
The REDA must be employed to halt the risk to human health.
This is particularly important now as well, as the federal government seeks to encourage an expansion in development of renewable energy, which may mean the planning and construction of more wind power facilities. …
It has been a heartbreaking and frustrating exercise reading reports on wind turbine noise emissions and attendant health impacts filed by the people of Ontario who thought their government would really protect them.
Health Canada says the comments are under review and may result in some revisions to the proposed legislation.
Wind Concerns Ontario received the news today that the Ministry of Environment, Parks and Conservation (MECP) contacted Suncor, the operator of the Adelaide Wind Farm regarding our concerns about an internal document.
The document, turned over to us in a batch of files requested under Freedom of Information legislation, appears to be an internal record for noise complaints received by Suncor about the wind power facility turbines. The section of the form asked the staff member receiving the complaint to identify whether the person complaining was a “member of a larger stakeholder group.”
WCO was concerned that this question is an invasion of privacy and could be used to intimidate people wanting to report adverse effects.
Suncor has been contacted by the MECP. Suncor also responded to an email sent directly by WCO and said they will review and revise the form.
The letter from the MECP:
I had forwarded you concerns on to the London Office of the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks. They in turn reached out to Suncor to follow up.
Based on your concerns I believe Suncor has made changes to the wording of their questionnaire and shared that with you.
Director, Divisional Compliance Branch (DCB)
Drinking Water, Environmental Compliance Division
Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks
It is the right of any Ontario citizen to report noise, vibration, sensation, disturbance to water wells or any other effect believed to be associated with the operation of wind turbines. Call the Spills Action Centre at 1-866-MOE-TIPS, and be sure to get an Incident Report number. Keep a record of your call.
Are wind power operators profiling people who call them to complain about noise or other effects from wind turbine operations?
In response to a request under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, Wind Concerns Ontario received what appears to be internal documents used by Suncor in 2016, related to the company’s Adelaide wind power project.
On the forms is the guide to staff to “indicate if the individual is a member of a larger stakeholder group”.
Wind Concerns Ontario is a community group coalition with dozens of community groups throughout the province, most of which actively criticized the imposition of grid-scale wind power facilities on their communities. Many also launched legal appeals before various tribunals and in court.
Was this question meant to intimidate people exercising their rights to complain under the government compliance process?
We sent an email to Suncor, in specific Jason Weir, the staff member who is named on the reports we received, but have had no response. Mr Weir has been listed as Site Supervisor and “Owners’ Representative” in the past, according to a search on his name.
Again these were internal forms for use by staff to guide information gathering. Other questions include asking about details of the complaint, wind direction, etc.
Huge wind turbines are near completion in North Stormont, in Eastern Ontario. Now, a community has to find a way to heal, if it can, after a scattering of property owners consented to industrialization of the rural area that will affect everyone.
March 4, 2021
An editorial in the Eastern Ontario edition of Farmers Forum says “Toronto” should never have imposed the 100-megawatt Nation Rise wind power facility on the communities of North Stormont.
In his editorial titled “How wind turbines scarred a landscape and a community,” editor Patrick Meagher notes that the township conducted a survey of residents and found most didn’t want the wind turbine development, and then unanimously voted to declare North Stormont an “Unwilling Host”.
“But things didn’t go that way,” Meagher writes.
Weeks before the provincial election in 2018, the Liberal government “greenlighted the project. This was in spite of a longstanding agreement not to approve major projects when another government could take over. Wynne got a two-for-one deal, sticking it to the next government and the locals at Crysler, Berwick and Finch.” (The riding went Conservative.)
The wind power project caused strong feelings, Meagher says. “The project was so acrimonious that in this small community friendships broke up, family members stopped talking to each other, and more than 10 property owners sold their houses and moved away.”
Now the community is “stuck” with 29 huge turbines that are “large, inefficient, taxpayer-subsidized generators of intermittent power…not even a good business decision.”
“This ugly event is testimony to why governments should listen to the people they work for…Toronto should never have decided what should happen in this small farming community 400 kilometres away.”
The editorial also quoted former mayor Dennis Fife who said the community now has to try to move on.
The 2010 report by the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario is old, irrelevant, and just plain wrong—time to say goodbye
February 4, 2021
In 2010, after media reports of citizen complaints about excessive noise from Ontario’s fleet of wind turbines, and to support the government’s push for more wind power, the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) for the province issued a brief document, The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines.
The conclusion of that report, and many other government communications, was that there is no relationship between wind turbine noise and direct health effects. The Ontario government, then under pro-wind Premier Dalton McGuinty, pledged it would protect Ontario citizens by keeping up with research on wind turbine noise and health around the world, provide new updates, and make changes to regulations as needed.
That never happened.
A new review was carried out and a new update prepared for publication in 2014, but it never saw the light of day.
Direct vs. indirect
Today we know that research shows that an indirect relationship exists between wind turbine noise and stress or distress that can result in serious health impacts such as cardiovascular problems. Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal noted in 2011 that it was concerned about the lack of consideration of indirect health effects. And other documents such as a 2015 review by the Council of Canadian Academies highlighted the inadequacy of current noise assessment protocols as are used in Ontario, and the lack of studies that uses actual measurement of wind turbine noise at people’s homes, instead of computer-generated models.
The Ontario government took no notice.
The truth is, the original 2010 CMOH report was limited as a research effort: it was based on a review of selected research papers, discussion covered just seven pages, and the report was never subjected to an independent peer review.
Nevertheless, in 2021, that 2010 Ontario document is still promoted to communities and public health officials as the definitive statement in answer to the question, Does wind turbine noise cause adverse health effects? It is even cited by international authorities as Ontario government policy.
Why we need to act now
The landscape has changed dramatically for wind power. There are far more wind turbines operating across Ontario than in 2010, and the size and power rating of turbines has increased. Despite the Ontario experience with higher electricity bills, environmental noise and community opposition, the current federal government is hinting that it wants more renewable energy across Canada.
With thousands of noise complaints from Ontario wind turbines on record, and with international research spurring other jurisdictions to revise regulation and setbacks, it is clearly past time for Ontario to “retire” the 2010 CMOH report and remove it from the public domain. Public health officials should be informed it cannot be relied upon, and a review of more recent literature should be conducted in order to revise regulations that will be protective of health.
Obviously, COVID-19 is what everyone is focusing on right now, but the health impact of the environmental noise pollution caused by grid-scale wind turbines is an important concern, too.
From failed appeals before a powerless quasi-judicial tribunal, to unanswered letters to government and a rigged consultation process, authors of a new paper demonstrate that legally, the fix was in via Ontario’s biased Green Energy Act. What will government do now?
January 9, 2021
A new paper has been published by several Ontario authors that paints a grim picture of the province’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act, passed in 2009 by the McGuinty government in order to quash any opposition for its renewable energy plans.
After the act was passed, wind power projects in Ontario were “rapidly approved by the government across rural areas” say the authors, despite the many environmental and health concerns raised. Legal appeals were filed, with few successes. Following the commencement of the projects’ power generation operations, thousands of complaints were reported to the Ontario government related to noise, adverse health effects, shadow flicker or strobe effect, killing of wildlife, and disturbance of people’s water supply. The authors refer here to Wind Concerns Ontario’s own reports on citizen complaints.
Following a complex review of the process and the aftermath, authors Alan Whiteley*, Anne Dumbrille and John Hirsch conclude that there was “legislative bias in policy and consultation that reduced the ability of the public to object to the policy” and “administrative bias, where decisions are perceived to favour industry over citizens.”
The authors make a series of recommendations in the interest of preventing such damaging policy and legislation from occurring again, but also note that the various governments post-Green Energy Act failed to respond to written expressions of concern.
“Are letters from citizens received by senior officials?” they ask. “Are they read and seriously considered?” Worse, are senior officials actively “discouraged from responding to letters on controversial topics?”
(Our experience many times over is that when responses are received at all, they often come from staff writers on the correspondence unit, employing boilerplate answers to questions.)
Although the goal of the Green Energy Act may have been to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment, the authors say, the result was a reduction in access to justice and limited citizen rights.
A number of papers were published in 2020 that help to move knowledge about the environmental impact of wind turbine noise emissions forward, and point to the need for regulatory review and change in Ontario, and enforcement of all regulations. While staff at the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks insist they keep up and move with current research, the conclusions reached in the new work show that clearly isn’t true.
As well, important work is being done by independent researchers—people who know there is a serious problem with wind turbine noise emissions, and who are doing what they can to learn why … and what should be done.
Resident complaints proven by data
Early in the year, independent researcher William Palmer P. Eng published “Confirming Tonality at Residences Influenced by Wind Turbines” in the Journal of Energy Conservation. The article is based on the author’s research into resident complaints about a tonal quality to the noise perceived from the turbines in a 140-turbine Ontario wind power facility. The research is based on more than 200 data samples from two families. Here’s the thing: Palmer’s data confirmed a correlation between tonality measurements of 5 dB to more than 20 dB in more than 84 percent of the time. In other words, the resident complaints about a tonal quality to the noise were borne out by actual measurement.
That correlation, Palmer wrote, “gives a high degree of confidence that when residents identified the existence of tonality (which they had done since the turbines came into operation in 2015) was indeed an accurate description.” Add to that, the residents were able to identify times when the wind turbine noise emissions were NOT tonal–that was borne out by the measurements, too.
Palmer discussed a number of problems with the current compliance protocol and noise measurement procedures prescribed by Ontario regulations, including the use of A-weighted noise levels, which has been criticized in other work including reports by the World Health Organization and the Council of Canadian Academies. In Ontario, Palmer says, “the principal criteria for acceptability of the sound received by residents from wind turbines has been based on A-weighted noise level, with tonal presence only requires a small adjustment.” However, Palmer adds, he can find no examples of it being applied.
Another specific flaw, he notes, is that the compliance protocol for wind turbine noise is to monitor conditions for winds within about 45 degrees of the turbine which has the greatest predicted noise impact. In the case of the homes used in his research, that meant that for one house there was presumed to be “little or noise noise impact” when the wind was westerly or no impact when the wind was from the east. In fact, occasions when winds were from those directions actually accounted for 74 of 111 records of irritating or disturbing noise—about 67 percent of the time.
The people were not wrong
Another article, also by independent researchers, elaborated on this theme of citizen concerns about problems with wind turbines. (See also a 2019 paper, Wind Turbine Incident/Complaint Reports in Ontario, Canada.) In this case, the authors of Deja Vu: a review of lived experiences afterAppeals of Ontario Industrial-scale wind Power Facilities, looked at the appeal process for wind power facility approvals and what grounds had been used for citizens to file appeals of those approvals, despite what lawyers call an “uphill battle” to undertake that process. The authors found that the grounds for appeal were: environmental noise, adverse health effects, and other environmental effects such as disturbances to water wells and aquifers.
In the early days of these appeals, the appellants relied on the testimony of “post-turbine witnesses,” people who had experience living within wind power facilities, and who were experiencing health problems. One chair of the Environmental Review Tribunal decided that although the Tribunal “does not question the sincerity” of these witnesses, the quasi-judicial panel concluded that the health problems were self-diagnosed and the lack of evidence from medical professionals was a serious shortcoming.
Today, there are enough complaints throughout Ontario about wind turbine noise emissions that the reports should be seen as significant, the authors said. They cited other authors who called for “diligent enforcement” of regulations by government, and legal authors who observed that wind turbine concerns had been “trivialised” while the concerns for the environment and health were in fact “genuine.”
“The Government of Ontario holds thousands of records of citizen complaints in the form of Incident Reports, many of which are reports of excessive noise and vibration; a significant number includes accounts of the occurrence of adverse health effects,” the authors wrote. Complaints continue to be filed; “there is evidence to suggest that current regulations [in Ontario] are not adequate to protect health.”
“It appears that the people who were concerned about the risks to the environment and human health were not wrong. Those concerns—which led them to spend substantial amounts of money while participating in an unfamiliar, stressful quasi-judicial process—are now the reason for a significant number of complaints to government.”
In other words, what the people feared might happen with the advent of the wind turbines, has now actually come to pass.
Excerpts from interviews with the participants told the story. People had learned that the only thing they could do to relieve the discomfort and problems of the wind turbine noise was to leave.
“When I left my home in the morning, or quite often in the middle of the night and then slept on my vehicle away from the turbines, I would recover from all these symptoms,” said one.
“We left home many times for the day just because of the noise here…we couldn’t stand it,” said another.
Of the 67 study participants, 28 had already abandoned their homes, another 31 were thinking about doing that, and four had decided to stay. The reasons were, the authors concluded, “to obtain temporary and/or partial relief from the occurrence of adverse health effects.”
The authors noted that in some cases, pre-existing health conditions were made worse by living near wind turbines; they called for more study to be done immediately.
At the end of the day…
The people of Ontario were promised a process that included regulation of noise, a protocol to assess compliance, and enforcement of the regulations.
Clearly, after more than 10 years, this promise, made under previous governments, has not been fulfilled. There are serious technical issues with the protocols in place and with the assumptions that underlie the regulatory process.
The Ontario government must:
establish an independent research panel to review current research on wind turbine noise emissions in six months, or less
remove the outdated and inadequate 2010 report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health from the public record
enforce existing regulations
resolve current complaints from citizens
revise and update the compliance protocol
develop new noise regulations, and
ENFORCE those regulations
We look forward to more research in 2021 to move us forward to change.
We continue to work toward improving awareness of the problems with industrial-scale wind power development, and to support Ontario families who have been adversely affected by the noise and vibration from wind turbines, and other effects.
Canada’s federal government–deep in debt from policy decisions and now the COVID-19 pandemic–has pointed toward a focus on renewable energy as a way to “build back better” and strengthen the economy.
But will it work?
Wind Concerns Ontario took a look at what government incentives did in Ontario, when the McGuinty government had the same goal in 2009. Their aim was to make up for the devastating losses in the auto industry by fostering a new one: Ontario would become a world leader in green energy and benefit from a chain of economic endeavors from manufacturing wind and solar power components to generating “clean” “green” power.
The vision was to help “fledgling” companies grow and thrive.
Research on the companies that actually participated in the early days of wind power development in Ontario shows they were hardly “fledglings”. Names like Samsung, Enbridge, Suncor, SunEdison and more indicate, as the Wind Concerns Ontario report shows, companies from around the world flocked to Ontario to take advantage of lucrative, above-market contract rates. And then, many of them left. Today, much of the province’s wind power capacity is held by pension and investment funds who bought into the high yields from the rich contracts.
Prosperity for all? No. Ontario now has a new catch phrase: “energy poverty” as it watched manufacturing businesses hit the road for locations with more advantageous electricity rates.