Turbines on trial as judges hear UWO witness
By Jonathan Sher The London Free Press
Jan. 25, 2011
TORONTO – The fate of the billion-dollar wind industry and the future of green energy in Ontario may now rest in the hands of three divisional-court judges.
The province’s Green Energy Act was put to the test Monday before a panel of three Superior Court justices over a clash that has played out in many Ontario communities — are wind turbines a savior of the environment or a risk to human health to those who live in their shadow?
The stakes are huge: Dalton McGuinty has staked his political fortunes and the province’s economic future largely on building a green-energy industry.
But in court Monday. the case likely turned on fine points of law that left non-lawyers with glazed eye in the packed courtroom at Osgoode Hall.
The sum of those points is this: Did then-Environment Minister John Gerretsen over-step his authority when he recommended how far turbines should be from homes?
Lawyer Eric Gillespie, who is representing a Prince Edward County man challenging the Minister, laid out his case:
The Minister didn’t rely on medical advisors, instead using exerts in unrelated fields such as land use planning and acoustics.
The failure to consult doctors was a critical defect because medical professional are not sure if wind turbines cause harm to health.
The process was flawed because the government’s own statement of environmental values calls on decision makers to not act if there is uncertainty whether harm will be caused — the so-called precautionary principle.
“There does not appear anyone who had the requisite qualifications to provide advice to the Minister,” Gillespie told the panel.
The government’s lawyer, Sara Blake, defended the process, saying it was enough that the Minister reviewed scientific studies, then attacked the credibility of doctors cited by Gillespie.
Taking aim at a former dean of the medical school at the University of Western Ontario, Blake said he was acting as an advocate, not a scientist, because area near his home on Prince Edward County was targeted for possible wind farms.
“He’s not an expert. He’s an advocate against wind farms,” she said.
The three judges wrapped up the hearing, saying they were hopeful they’d reach a judgment soon.
That the judges are deliberating at all was a win for opponents to wind power — Blake argued the court lacked jurisdiction to hear a challenge she said belonged before an environmental tribunal set up by the government.
The clearing of that hurdle opened the door to challenging Green Energy Act provision that turbines need be only 550 metres from homes.
Wind power is the star in Ontario’s renewable-energy plan — the government wants to double its output this year and ramp it up to provide 10 percent of energy output over 20 years.
Energy is also a key political dividing line for the Ontario election in October.
Those who say the turbines harm health say the mega-devices emit low-pitched sounds which some doctors say disrupt the body’s rhythms and cause headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, rapid heart rate, irritability and problems with concentration and memory.