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.
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.
In today’s edition of The Niagara Independent is an article by Catherine Swift, head of Working Canadians and former Chief Economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
She advises the Ford government to take the steps that are needed to get Ontario’s high electricity bills down—an action that was part of the government’s campaign promise in 2018.
“Most Ontarians also know that the reason for our outrageously high hydro costs is the ill-conceived Green Energy Act (GEA) of the previous Liberal government, which involved signing long-term contracts with solar and wind energy providers,” Swift writes. Those contracts were designed “guaranteeing them rates far in excess of any sensible market rates for electricity, while doing little if anything for the environment that would justify the massive added costs.”
Further, Swift says, “Despite strong rhetoric decrying the price of hydro power in Ontario and the negative impact it is having on businesses, households and the economy overall, the Ford government has in some cases merely perpetuated bad Liberal policy and has not attacked the underlying cause of high hydro rates – the ridiculous contracts awarded by the Liberals to generators of “green” energy at absurdly high cost.
“These contracts typically had terms of 20 years, and some as long as 40 years. The Ontario government has cancelled some of these contracts, at some cost to taxpayers but likely more benefit in terms of eventual savings. But the vast majority of the contracts remain in force and will keep hydro costs high well into the future. The bottom line is that the Liberals made a fine mess of the electricity market in Ontario, including all kinds of inequities in terms of the costs imposed on different groups of ratepayers, and foolishly committed Ontarians to contracts of much longer duration than any government should be permitted to do. Much of the Ontario economy has suffered mightily as a result, especially the job-creating small business sector. As the Ford government is finding, these policies are very difficult to reverse. And if this wasn’t bad enough news, many of the architects of this failed Green Energy Act are now advising the federal government, and advocating for similar policies on a national level.
It is true that the contracts negotiated by the McGuinty and Wynne governments will be difficult to unwind, and doubtless the Ford government’s lawyers are reluctant to get involved in more legal action (e.g., Nation Rise, which was handled badly), but it is possible. Queen’s University professor of law and economics Bruce Pardy wrote in a paper in 2014 that “However, government contracts are not the ironclad agreements they appear to be because governments may change or cancel them by enacting legislation.”
Whatever means is used, Ontario’s citizens do not deserve to continue paying high rates for intermittent, unreliable wind power via contracts negotiated by former, ideology-driven governments which never bothered, despite advice from the Auditor-General, to do a cost-benefit analysis of its pro-wind power program.
“It was basically like a death when we had to move from our home”
New research catalogues the reasons behind families in Ontario who decided to abandon their homes after wind turbines started up.
June 29, 2020
“I couldn’t sleep anymore”
“Nowhere to go, no hiding from it [the noise]”
“We had beautiful water–you couldn’t drink it afterwards [turbines began operation]”
“I asked my doctor [if my health problems could be” about [wind] turbines. She said, ‘Yes’.”
Those are just a few of the comments made by Ontario residents who participated in a special study done by a team of health care professionals, acoustics specialists and investigators. A new paper by Dr. Robert McMurtry, Carmen Krogh, acoustics specialists Robert Rand, Jerry Punch, Stephen Ambrose and others*, reviews the reasons behind the desperate choice made by dozens of Ontario families to leave their homes, to preserve their health–both mental and physical.
The new paper, published last week, is based on a study carried out over three years involving 67 Ontario residents and additional family members for a total of 165 people. They all lived within 10 km of industrial-scale wind turbines or wind power generators.
More than half reported adverse health effects after being exposed to noise emissions and vibration from operating wind turbines; stray voltage and disturbed water wells were also cited as key factors in decisions to leave the houses. The people participating in the study had lived in their houses for a mean period of 20 years, or a range of three to 66 years.
The aim of the paper is to present policy-makers with information on the “potential outcomes of placing wind turbines near family homes,” the authors state in their conclusion.
“The comments made by the people in this study are just heart-breaking,” said Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson. “We’ve seen them over and over in the Incident Reports we received from Freedom of Information requests, together with statements from people indicating they can’t put up with the turbines and the adverse effects anymore. It is well past time the government enforced the rules, changed the rules, and developed rules that truly protect the people of Ontario.
“Bravo to this study team, and all the work they’ve done to expose the terrible things that have happened to innocent citizens.”
Read the full paper here: https://m.scirp.org/papers/101098?fbclid=IwAR3XcUKEebiBR-sLAyIEbNpGHnP3-EQU3_hwtOx4_ovfW6f-cI6JQj7Igfc
*Other authors include community group leaders such as Anne Dumbrille (CCSAGE), Linda Rogers (Mothers Against Wind Turbines) and Debra Hughes.
The Concerned Citizens of North Stormont announced today that it will not pursue further legal action regarding the Nation Rise wind power project; Ontario’s Attorney General has determined that it will not appeal a court decision made a few weeks ago.
The community group negotiated several conditions with the power developer, including a fund to help people who perceive noise or other effects, a bat mitigation strategy that is planned to prevent bat deaths, and funding for wildlife research to be done by an Eastern Ontario research institute. As well, the community group’s considerable legal fees will be paid by the power developer.
The news release is as follows:
Resolution Reached between community and Nation Rise wind power project
June 19, 2020 – North Stormont
An agreement has been reached between community group Concerned Citizens of North Stormont (CCNS) and the developer of the Nation Rise Wind Project. CCNS appealed the project approval before the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal over concerns about the environment and wildlife; that appeal was dismissed. The Minister of the Environment subsequently revoked the Renewable Energy Approval on direct appeal from the community group but that action was recently reversed by the Ontario Divisional Court.
The Ministry of the Attorney General has now indicated the Minister will not be seeking leave to appeal the Court decision.
The negotiated agreement recognizes and respects that the project as proposed will have the most stringent bat mitigation of any wind power project in Ontario.
The agreement includes the creation of a community-based home improvement fund which will allow local residents to apply for up to $5,000 from a $150,000 fund, established primarily for noise and visual mitigation for homeowners who perceive impacts.
The agreement also provides for $50,000 to the St. Lawrence River Institute, based in Cornwall, Ontario, to fund independent bat-related research.
The agreement further provides for payment of fees and disbursements incurred by CCNS.
For additional information, please contact counsel for CCNS Eric Gillespie at 416-436-7473 (telephone/text) or by email egillespie@gillespielaw.
Minister cancelled wind power project approval to “exercise precaution” regarding endangered bats; judges say, No and side with wind power lobby and developer on all points
May 15, 2020
A panel of judges in Toronto in the Ontario Superior Court released their decision yesterday over the Nation Rise wind power project in North Stormont, “quashing” the environment minister’s decision to revoke the project approval.
The decision is important —- and worrying —- as it appears to limit the environment minister’s powers to act over risks to the environment. Lawyer for the community group which filed appeals of the power project over a number of environmental concerns published a news release early this morning. It is available here: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/court-denies-minister-s-ability-to-protect-ontario-environment-823653654.html?fbclid=IwAR0ZEpgR1PRHmtE4lgDFu5SCI-WcVu5I4-TzXPf-b8pnZOyqsJ70ebu9fYM
Lawyer Eric Gillespie says that the decision rules the environment minister is unable to act and raise further issues after the quasi-judicial Environmental Review Tribunal has made a decision, even if there are factual errors alleged.
“This appears to leave the entire Province highly vulnerable,” said Margaret Benke of the Concerned Citizens of North Stormont group, calling the decision a “tremendous step backward for environmental protection.”
The Attorney General’s Office, which defended the minister’s decision in court, has yet to respond to yesterday’s decision.
“This is astonishing,” says Wind Concerns Ontario president Jane Wilson. “We know how difficult it is to present environmental concerns before the Tribunal and how the test was made very difficult to meet. Yet almost every wind power project in Ontario has been appealed, at a cost of millions to citizens and municipal government. To handcuff the minister like this is very concerning.”
While the community group learned of the decision Wednesday afternoon, power developer EDPR had workers back at the site earlier in the day. Somehow, the NDP energy critic was also informed and posted a message about the minister’s “batty” decision on Twitter Wednesday evening.
The judges’ decision is here: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onscdc/doc/2020/2020onsc2984/2020onsc2984.html?resultIndex=3
Energy analyst and Ontario government historian Scott Luft has just published an important analysis of energy contracts post the Green Energy and Green Economy Act passed in 2009, and has made some starting calculations: those above-market contracts cost us plenty, and still are.
The good news is that the increase in the costs incurred by the GEA contracting slowed significantly after 2016. Additional costs are still to come as the largest, most expensive, single feed-in tariff contract only entered service for the last third of 2019: a full year of operation will add another $75 million. Hydro output from sites contracted under the HCI and HESA initiatives have been producing less in the past couple of years, while global adjustment cost components reported by the system operation (IESO) for this group have been fare higher than my estimates – so I suspect the system operator is hiding payments for curtailment. I have not accounted for biomass contracts, although some exist: over 80% of contracted generation from biofuels is either on FIT contracts or is the converted-from-coal Atikokan Generating Station. Reporting on the global adjustment shows biomass responsible for $230 – $287 million annually over the past 5 years.
Precision is elusive, but I am confident the current annual cost from procurement programs initiated in 2009 is over $4 billion a year.
Wind and solar contracts are for 20 years. A handful of smaller hydro facilities have contracts for less than 20 years, but most are 40 and the largest, most expensive contracts are for 50 years (for facilities on the Lower Mattagami river). By multiplying $4 billion (per year) by 20 years it’s clear the entire cost will be more than the $80 billion.
This is bad news for the current Ontario government that promised lower electricity bills—hard to do when you’re locked into lucrative contracts for years to come yet. But this is interesting for people who complained about cancellation of the 758 new energy contracts last year—we didn’t need that power, and we certainly don’t need the cost of intermittent, weather-dependent power, produced out of phase with demand.
Damage, not help for the environment—and plenty of money to be made, says new Michael Moore/Jeff Gibbs documentary
April 24, 2020
Just in time for Earth Day, doc filmmaker Michael Moore released his newest film, directed by and starring environment writer Jeff Gibbs, “Planet of the Humans.”
The film is a scathing indictment of how huge corporations adapted the public desire to have “green” sources of power and used it to make billions, while excoriating the environment through development.
See the video here; Moore made it available for 30 days for free, but the forces behind the renewables money grab are actively working to have the film taken down.