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Taking a look at green energy

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today


Ontario's Green Energy Act, encouraging development of alternative renewable energy to feed into the existing power grid of hydro towers, lines and transformers which crisscross this province, has affected rural residents most significantly. Some see the infrastructure of industrial wind towers and solar panel farms as intrusive on the landscape, their health and their lifestyle, and are convinced the towers will lead to reduced property values. Here in Northumberland County, meetings about the impact of green energy have taken place and are continuing to be scheduled. Hamilton Township, for instance, is organizing a public meeting with speakers to ascertain whether it should declare itself an "unwilling host" for future mega-wind and -solar projects. A grassroots organization, The Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills, has held its own meetings related to wind power, going so far as to file a lawsuit against a proposed Grafton wind farm development that has now been called off. And at the same time, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is hearing from experts on both sides of the wind power question before deciding whether to petition the Province of Ontario for a moratorium.

The following is the first in a series of three articles about wind power as viewed by various organizations and experts.


For the past year, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has been wrestling with a push from within its board of directors to urge the Ontario Government to place a moratorium on wind power.

Board member Heather Stauble of the City of Kawartha Lakes has been the driving force. Late last year she brought forward at least three motions to that end, and had enough support that the board has invited a series of guest speakers to update it on the current state of the technology and related health issues before making its decision whether to lobby the provincial government.

Last week, Gideon Forman, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, provided a visual presentation entitled "Why doctors support wind power."

It sparked questions from board members and interest from the large number of members of The Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills who attended last Thursday's health board meeting.

Forman told those present that "wind, compared to nuclear power and coal, comes off looking very strong" and that the doctors he represents see coal and its impact on such health conditions as asthma as "threat number 1." Added to this, coal emits carcinogens (cancer-causing substances such as arsenic), produces sulphur dioxide causing acid rain and "brain poisons" including mercury and lead, he said.

Both coal and nuclear power are "far more dangerous to human health and the environment" than wind power, Forman's presentation stated.

A 2010 poll conducted by Strategic Communications Inc. found that 75% of the 1,000 Ontarians surveyed believe coal was "more harmful than wind," Forman continued.

As it relates to nuclear power, Forman said scientific reviews of the nuclear industry "found all reactors release radioactive material routinely" and that a "German study found young children living within five kilometres of nuclear plants at elevated risk for leukemia… a deadly form of blood cancer."

Forman also quoted the conclusion from a Scientific American publication that stated, "Nuclear power results in up to 25 more carbon emissions than wind energy when reactor construction and uranium refining are considered."

This takes into account the grinding up of rock to obtain the nuclear material that goes into the rods, and its effect on climate change, Forman said.

Wind power, on the other hand, does "not contribute to smog, climate change, cancer, acid rain (or) brain damage," he continued.

Quoting a 2009 published report about a U.S. Energy Department study, Forman's presentation offered the opinion that there is "no evidence of wide-spread impacts from (wind) turbines" and that according to a Scientific America article dated the same year "wind power is expected to be the least costly of all (green) options" by 2020.

Forman went on to review the findings of Ontario's Medical Officer of Health, Arlene King, who said that looking at 40 years of science to 2010, there was "no direct casual link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects."

He also cited the B.C. Centre for Disease Control study published in 2010 that stated the shadow effect of blades rotating could be annoying but "not likely to cause epileptic seizures at normal operational speeds."

At is relates to concerns raised about infrasound and low frequency sounds, Forman said that King also determined in data to 2010 that these were "well below the level where known health effects occur, typically at 50 to 70 dB."

The 550-metre setback of wind turbines is a safe distance for people, Forman said, and according to a Government of Massachusetts study dated 2012, "there is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as 'wind turbine syndrome'."

The Australian government found that existing planning guidelines can minimize any potential impact on human beings, he also said of the two more recent studies he used to update his presentation to the local health board.

Both conservation and renewable energy production need to be expanded, Forman concluded.

But under questioning from board member Stauble, Forman admitted that the comparison to coal is less of a factor given the government's current direction. Stauble, in fact, criticized the presentation for focusing on this because the Province of Ontario has all but phased out coal. (The government is ahead of schedule to eliminate coal from the energy mix in this province.)

As it relates to setbacks, Stauble queried whether there were a need for greater setbacks with the cumulative effects of multiple wind turbines but Forman said he could not address this.

Board member Sandra Jacks asked whether there could be direct health issues more significant than mere annoyance from shadow flicker caused by wind turbine blades but Forman only referred to King's statements on the matter.

When asked whether the "A" weighted scale was used under the Act when measuring sound (According to Wikipedia, A-weighting is applied to instrument-measured sound levels in an effort to account for the relative loudness perceived by the human ear, as the ear is less sensitive to low audio frequencies), Forman said he understood that was the case, but Stauble said this does not accurately measure low frequency sound that can lead to sleep deprivation.

Forman's in-person presentation was followed by a teleconference involving Dr. Jeff Aramini, who was involved in an epidemiological study of risk factors and health outcomes related to 1.5 megawatt turbines in Maine, and his own concerns related to a proposed wind development near Fergus where he lives. His presentation and an update on what is happening in this part of Ontario with wind development proposals will be looked at in the second part of this series.

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