OFA has little ability to protect health around Turbines
By Dan Reid January 15, 2012 The Sun Times
I am not a farmer, nor am I a member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). For some, those two facts will negate any credibility that I have to offer an opinion on the organization. I accept that. However, before jumping to conclusions, let me assure you this editorial is not a public rant about the value of the organization or a call for it to be dismantled. Rather, it focuses only on their activity with respect to industrial wind projects.
In that regard, in spite of claims to the contrary, I would submit that the OFA has demonstrated no particular aptitude for protecting the health of rural Ontario. That would specifically apply to their membership, largely comprised of those who have opted to host wind turbines on their property. However, by extension it could also apply to rural Ontarians at large.
The predicament that the OFA is in may be attributable to a rather limited understanding of some of the key issues that actually impact the health and well being of those in proximity to turbines. In view of this, they are not blameless for their situation. But, by the same token, they are not entirely at fault. The rules established by the Ontario Government to roll out wind projects are stacked against the OFA. Also, some OFA members adamantly fight to place their property rights over their own health. Let’s consider these one at a time.
The primary example often quoted by the OFA as substantiation for how they are protecting health, is their successful lobbying to move turbines from 420 meter setbacks to 550 meters for participating land owners. Although well intended, this move could best be characterized as tinkering. It will do very little to alleviate the potential ill effects of turbines. One only need look at a couple of current examples.
At this time there is a Renewable Energy Application in front of the Ministry of the Environment for the McLeans Mountain industrial wind project on Manitoulin Island. This application is for the construction of 24 turbines each with 2.5 megawatts in power output and a maximum sound power level (noise level) of 104 decibels per turbine. As with most projects like this, there is a requirement for a detailed Noise Impact Assessment.
In the Mcleans Mountain noise assessment you will find a map that illustrates four distinct ‘noise envelopes’ drawn around clusters of turbines. The perimeter of each envelope indicates where noise levels are predicted to be 40 decibels. That noise level is the benchmark for compliance for the MOE. That means beyond that boundary, further from the turbines, noise levels are deemed acceptable. In this project that border physically occurs at approximately 650 metres in a 360 degree direction around each turbine cluster.
In a similar example, the Watford Wind Farm project recently approved by the MOE has 4 turbines each with 2.5 megawatts of power output but with almost 108 decibels (107.9) as a maximum sound power level (noise level). The 40 decibel boundary for the ‘noise envelope’ in this case occurs about 700 meters in a 360 degree direction around the group of 4 turbines.
To clarify, inside the boundary of each of the ‘noise envelopes’ in the above examples the predicted noise levels start at greater than 40 decibels and increase to over 70 decibels as you get closer to the turbines. Ironically, inside the noise envelope is also the homesteads and workplaces of farmers. Most of who are the constituents of the OFA.
If you were to do some research into human hearing you will find that prolonged exposure to levels of noise of 70 decibels or more can lead to impaired hearing. If that is not enough, then consider that the 40 plus decibel range within the perimeter may be more than double the ambient noise level of the natural environment without turbines. That difference between the noise level of the natural environment and the induced noise level from wind turbines is one key ingredient to negative health effects from noise annoyance. It applies equally to anyone living in proximity to an industrial wind farm.
Concern for the health of people living near turbines is rooted in the sound power level of each turbine and how they are clustered. Distance from the turbine, when considered in isolation is only secondary. The fundamental point is, unless the OFA builds an understanding of the ‘soundscapes’ of industrial wind projects, the effort to arbitrarily push turbines further away from people from 420 to 550 meters provides absolutely no increased insurance for the protection of human health. Attention has to be directed at noise emissions for the safety of land owners who host turbines. Unfortunately, for the OFA, the rules are stacked against them.
When a detailed noise impact assessment is done a distinction is made between receptors (recipients of noise). That is, there are ‘non-participating’ receptors and ‘participating’ receptors. The ‘participating’ ones are those who have signed on to have turbines on their property. Unfortunately, the Ontario Government only considers the noise predictions for ‘non-participating’ receptors in the final assessment for compliance. That’s the rule. Apparently, the contract a land owner signs to collect income from turbines is apparently sufficient to abrogate their personal right to health and well being. Albeit, this is good for the government. If noise levels at ‘participating’ receptors were considered they would rarely, if at all, be in compliance with the 40 decibel limit. As such, a vast number of industrial wind projects would never be built. That possibility is clearly not acceptable for the Government and as a result, both land owners and rural Ontarians at large remain vulnerable.
In addition to all this, the OFA faces strong challenges from some of its own members. I have read examples of participating land owners who threaten to sue their local councils if they oppose industrial wind projects. Further to that, in my own local area, some councillors when faced with opposition to wind projects have raised the question of defending the rights of property owners who choose to put turbines on their land. My personal opinion is that this would be like defending somebody’s right to smoke. While I can appreciate that many people make this injurious choice, I would never defend their right to do so.
All in all, the OFA has to overcome some formidable challenges before they can make legitimate claims of protecting the health of rural Ontario when it comes to industrial wind projects. There is a huge need for the education of the organization and some members, as well as a strong well informed lobby effort to re-write the rules. However, I am skeptical about the motivation to make this happen from an organization who so blatantly embraces the green energy mantra. The OFA’s enthusiasm for green energy at this point, seems to have obscured any objective assessment of the ramifications. I would conclude therefore, that the OFA is destined to remain incapable of protecting the health and well being of Ontarians when turbines are involved.