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Excellent 3-part series on wind turbine noise in Ontario

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In Dufferin County, Ontario, the Orangeville Banner recently ran a very well-written and balanced three-part series on that region’s ongoing controversies over noise from wind farms.  The piece makes very clear both the extent of noise-related disruption felt by some residents (including the first official acknowledgement I’ve seen that the wind farm developer did indeed buy out at least two nearby neighbors who could not adapt to the turbines’ presence), and the larger context that is also a consistent feature of the issue: that the majority of neighbors are not having any particular troubles with the turbines and their noise. The 133-turbine Melancthon EcoPower Centre has spurred recurring noise problems for 17 households, out of 300 that the company calls “neighbors.”  It is not clear whether those bothered are concentrated closer to turbines, or how far from the wind farm households are being included in the 300 number.

Helen Fraser and her husband, Bruce, sold their long time home to Canadian Hydro Developers in 2007, after the couple started experiencing symptoms they attribute to nearby wind turbines. (click for full story)

Helen Fraser and her husband, Bruce, sold their long time home to Canadian Hydro Developers in 2007 (click for full story)

The first of the three articles focuses on several people who have experienced noise problems, including sleep disruption and resultant stress.  While the scientific literature does not show clear cause-and-effect, in which increasing noise or proximity of wind turbines leads predictably to health issues, the utility and the local mayor both say that the complaints received are convincing. “I think when you look at people and the chronologies they’ve put together in terms of when they’re being affected by the noise … the physical evidence is there. I don’t doubt them, don’t doubt them for a minute,” Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver says of health complaints from some of the turbine’s neighbours.  A local health department official also acknowledges the situation: “The quality of sound does, absolutely does, cause some annoyance — there’s no doubt about that — and stress for certain people,” acknowledges Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH). “That annoyance and stress affects people differently. Some people can live near wind farms and not report any stress or sleep disturbances or annoyances related to the wind farms.” It’s difficult to directly connect any particular influencing factor to sleep disturbance, Mercer adds, which makes it hard for people to prove a relationship, if there is one, between their symptoms and the turbines. The issue has been studied many times, in other countries, without those particular dots being connected, the doctor notes.

The second article centers on two homes that Canadian Hydro Developers, the company behind the Melancthon wind farm, have bought after residents noise-related health problems became unbearable.  Scott Hossie, the company’s Ontario environmental manager, says “That’s not the preferred outcome for Canadian Hydro. We prefer to find a solution that allows us to continue operating and our neighbours to continue enjoying Melancthon and Amaranth townships. By and large, we’ve been successful in doing so,” he says. “Really, the concerns about effects on health, or concerns raised by our neighbours of wind turbines with respect to health, are very much the exception.”  Helen Frasier, who lived 420 meters from the closest turbine, said that after the turbines began operating in 2006, she started to experience headaches, muscle pain, fatigue and a ringing in her ears. Her husband Bruce began having problems with his blood sugar and when the turbine faced a specific direction, their dog would urinate inside the house at night. They didn’t connect their troubles to the turbines–which they had initially supported–at first. Fraser says that came after they went away on a couple vacations and their symptoms disappeared, then returned soon after they returned home.

The third and final installment in the series discusses Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, which has upset both the wind industry (who feel it restricts their flexibility) and local activists (who say the 550 meter setbacks are too small).  Kate Jordan, Ministry of the Environment (MOE) spokesperson, pointed to an aspect of the Green Energy Act that has not received much mention: due to reported negative health impacts, the province will fund an academic research chair to keep on top of the latest science and technology associated with renewable energy projects, especially wind turbines, explains Jordan. “That chair’s role will be to research potential public health effects of renewable energy projects as new information and new science emerges. That will ensure that our approvals continue to be protective of public health and the environment. That work will be ongoing,” she says. “There are more details to come on that this fall. We’re just looking at the options right now for establishing the chair.” Currently, the MOE doesn’t have any regulatory standards regarding low-frequency noise — something the chair will be charged with considering. Any recommendations brought forward by the chair are to be reviewed by ministry staff for potential implementation.

The series, which AEI heartily encourages you to read in full, spurred letters to the editor, including one that makes a point often heard: that the sound and movement of wind turbines is, for many neighbors, a soothing addition to the landscape.


See other recent wind turbine noise-related posts on and the Acoustic Ecology Institute’s Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise Issues

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