A rural Ontario couple is heading to court to halt development of a large wind farm near the shores of Lake Huron – at least until Health Canada completes a new two-year study on the potential risks of living next to industrial wind turbines.
Lawyers for Shawn and Trish Drennan sent notice Monday to the Ontario government announcing they are seeking an injunction against expanding the Kingsbridge 2 wind farm near Goderich, Ont., by Alberta-based Capital Power.
They argue that in light of Health Canada’s announcement in July to study the health of 2,000 residents across Canada who live near wind farms, all construction should be stopped on the 140 turbines set to go up near the Drennans' farm — several of which would be located within 700 metres of their home.
"There is no real set understanding how these things are going to affect people and I'm not interested in being a guinea pig!" Shawn Drennan told CBC News in an interview at his farm in Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Township.
Some of Ontario’s first industrial wind turbines were erected within 300 to 400 metres from people’s homes. After complaints, the government changed its regulations to require a setback distances of at least 550 metres.
But Shawn Drennan says he's worried about the health of his family, as well as the effect turbine noise and vibrations could have on his livestock and soil, fearing it will kill off moles and earth worms that he says are vital to his "no-till" soil and acreage.
"Until they have the final results, they should have a moratorium," he said.
If the injunction request is granted, it could have far-reaching implications for hundreds of wind-farm developments across Canada.
The federal health study is adding fuel to a controversy that has dogged the Ontario government since it began approving thousands of wind turbines in rural areas in a bid to develop a "clean, green" energy sector as an alternative to coal and nuclear power.
Provincial ministers have long maintained there is no scientific evidence that wind turbines directly cause ill health, dismissing concerns and complaints from residents.
However, CBC News has documented scores of people who reported ringing in their ears, vertigo, sleeplessness and other stress-related ailments they attribute to living downwind from turbines.
Several residents complain about the audible swooshing noises from turbine blades and transformer stations. Some even claim they were forced to abandon their homes and were unable to sell their properties due to their proximity to the wind farm. Others have sold their properties directly to the wind-power companies who demanded confidentiality clauses prohibiting those residents from discussing the sale price or any health problems they may have suffered.
Shortly after announcing the wind-turbine study in July, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told CBC News: “We heard from Canadians their questions and concerns about wind power. Right now, we do not have the scientific evidence to make an informed decision on whether there is a health impact or not.”
Capital Power acknowledges it has heard the residents’ health concerns but a spokesperson says there are no plans to delay construction of the new 140 turbines near Goderich set to go up in 2013.
"We have been planning this project for some time," Laurie Wilson told CBC News. "We remain confident that following these provincial regulations wind is a safe and healthy form of power generation."
Ontario’s energy minister also indicated in an email that the government has no plans to postpone construction on thousands of additional turbines approved across the province, despite the Health Canada study. The Ontario government maintains its current regulations for wind farms protect the public.
Yet the Environmental Review Board, the province’s wind-power regulator, concluded in July 2011 that there is no question turbines can cause ill health – and that what needs to be answered is: How close is too close when it comes to wind farms next to homes?
The Drennans' lawyer, Julian Falconer, argues the government is basing the regulations on guesswork, without due diligence to ensure people’s health is protected.
"If you surround the Drennan farm with 140 wind turbines, over 400 feet [122 metres] high each of them, and you don't know the connection between the noise emanating from these massive structures and health effects, why in the world would you subject them to it first, and then get a report a later? It boggles the mind," Falconer said.
"Now may be the time to slow things down so that Health Canada can give a 'yay or nay' on the health impacts of these things, and most important give some guidance on what are reasonable criteria for putting them around people's homes. I mean this is not just a NIMBY [not in my backyard] issue."