Wind turbine noise in Ontario to be studied for potential health risks

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

A new study being conducted by the federal government will explore "the relationship between wind turbine noise and the extent of health effects" on those who live near wind farms, Health Canada reports.

The $1.8-million study will involve 2,000 homes from eight to twelve communities near windmills and hopes to answer questions about the health effects of the low-frequency noise generated by nearby wind turbines.

Critics of wind power are encouraged by the study, hoping it will "validate anecdotal claims of illness brought on by wind turbines," the National Post reports.

Sherri Lange, CEO of North American Platform Against Wind Power (NA-PAW), tells CBC News that she believes exposure to low-frequency noise and vibrations from wind turbines can lead to sleep disorders, depression, headaches, anxiety and blood-pressure changes.

The National Post's Scott Stinson doesn't think the government will find anything in activists' favour, citing a 2010 report from Ontario's chief medical officer that said there was no evidence to support a "direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects."

[ Related: News Brunswick wind turbine could kill 1,000 birds ]

"Currently, there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not there is a relationship between exposure to the noise from wind turbines and adverse human health effects, although community annoyance and other concerns have been reported to Health Canada and in the scientific literature," Health Canada posted on its site.

Chatham-Kent's acting medical officer of health, Dr. David Colby, questioned the need for the study:

"I think the hope is they are going to be able to silence the critics who say nobody is doing anything about these obvious health effects," Colby told the Windsor Star. "If they don't find a relationship between noise and physical symptoms that won't stop people from saying there is one."

"You can't prove a negative hypothesis," Colby added. "You can't prove there are no ghosts."

If the study concludes that wind turbines are a health risk after all, McGuinty's government will find itself in an awkward position, still "committed to years of locked-in payments for wind energy contracts," Stinson writes.

Results of the study will be published in 2014.

Other critics of wind power are looking beyond potential adverse health issues and are instead pointing out the inefficiency of the turbines which usually operate well below capacity. While Ontario's nuclear reactors generated energy at more than 98 per cent of their capacity during the recent heat wave, the wind turbines generated energy at 17 per cent capacity at the most — around midnight last Friday — and as low as just 1.4 per cent capacity on Monday morning.

Wind energy, despite the hype, still provides just 2.6 per cent of the province's energy supply, reports Canada's Independent Electricity System Operator.

Other opponents of wind energy accuse turbines of negatively affecting the sight lines and property value of nearby homes — a claim the industry has rejected — with one realtor claiming properties in sight of windmills now sell for 20 to 40 per cent less, and take longer to sell, than those out of sight from them.

And last summer, Nature Canada asked TransAtla Corp. to periodically turn off its Wolfe Island wind farm — specifically during migration season — as a step to decrease the number of birds and bats killed by its machines.

A report showed that the Wolfe Island turbines, near Kingston, Ontario, generated the highest number of casualties of any Ontario wind farm: 1,500 dead birds and 3,800 dead bats in one year, the Globe and Mail cited.

The National Post asks what many are beginning to wonder: With rapidly declining popularity in rural communities, has Dalton McGuinty's unwavering commitment to green energy been worth the trouble?

[ Related: Rankin Inlet wind turbine loses its blades ]