Wind farm opponents abandon appeal

LITTLE CURRENT—The Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA) has withdrawn its appeal against the Ministry of Environment’s (MOE’s) Renewable Energy Approval (REA). MCSEA had planned to appeal the province’s recently announced REA for the McLean’s Mountain wind farm project.

The decision was announced Monday after MCSEA had held a series of meetings over the weekend.

“We have officially withdrawn our appeal as of today (Monday, December 10),” MCSEA president Ray Beaudry told The Expositor on Monday. “We met over the weekend and through a vote decided to withdraw our appeal.”

Mr. Beaudry explained that the main reason for MCSEA’s action is that they felt the appeal process would not have any effect on the project.

“A contributing factor is a recently released Freedom of Information (FOI) request received last week that forced our group of First Nations and non-First Nations to abandon the process altogether,” Mr. Beaudry states in a press release. “The FOI shows that back in 2009, before the Green Energy Act, several civil servants in the ministry right up to the Assistant Deputy Minister knew all about the health problems from wind turbine noise. Some admitted to experiencing the effects. Others stated it contravened the EPA (limits) (the US Environmental Protection Agency). But today, those turbines are still turning, continuing to victimize the people of this province.”

Mr. Beaudry explained to The Expositor that the FOI documents were requested by a wind concerns group in southern Ontario and obtained by MCSEA through a wind concerns network.

“The deck is stacked against all of us in rural Ontario,” continued Mr. Beaudry. “We can’t win these appeals. The legal test to predict and prove serious and irreversible harm is impossible. Now with this new FOI (data) we know that projects will never have to adhere to the EPA because no one listens.”

Mr. Beaudry added that another reason for MCSEA’s withdrawn appeal is due to high legal costs.

“The wind industry has high-end lawyers that we just can’t afford to compete against,” Mr. Beaudry stated plainly. “Last week, we tried to amend our appeal to include serious and irreversible health effects to plant life, animal life and the environment, but both Northland Power and the MOE objected to us amending our appeal.”

“How on earth can little guys like us here on Manitoulin Island even begin to challenge this approval when democracy and justice has been taken from us since the Green Energy Act became law?” questioned Mr. Beaudry. “We have not abandoned the fight to protect Manitoulin and we are considering other possible courses of action.”

The Expositor contacted the MOE regarding MCSEA’s claims against the MOE and the appeal process.

“In terms of the points made in the release regarding the ministry’s noise standards for wind turbines,” responded Kate Jordan, communications branch of the MOE late on Monday, “I can assure you that the province has established setbacks that are protective of human health and the environment. The ministry has strict noise limits that developers of wind farms must meet to ensure they are not impacting local communities. That’s why the sound limit for wind turbines is 40 db which is consistent with the level the World Health Organization says is protective of human health.”

The setbacks for a wind turbine from an existing dwelling have been established by the MOE at 500 metres.

“Ministry field staff have always been able to measure for noise and detect sources of noise,” continued Ms. Jordan. “However, we wanted to be able to measure noise more accurately, so we engaged experts to develop a wind turbine-specific protocol that allows the ministry to better assess whether noise being generated is background noise or turbine noise.”

As to the FOI document, Ms. Jordan explained to The Expositor that the comments contained in the documents “helped us to develop this new noise measurement protocol.”

“It’s important to understand those comments were made several years ago in the early days of approving wind turbines when there wasn’t a field protocol for measuring noise from turbines and distinguishing it from background noise,” concluded Ms. Jordan. “As you can see in the document, ministry staff identified the lack of protocol as an issue and in response to those concerns, protocols were developed. The ministry will continue to review emerging scientific and engineering studies to ensure Ontario’s requirements remain in line with the best available science.”

With MCSEA’s appeal being withdrawn, NPI can freely move ahead with the McLean’s Mountain wind farm project. Project manager Rick Martin spoke with The Expositor on Monday, following MCSEA’s announcement.

“Yes, the appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal of the project’s REA permit has been withdrawn and the planned prehearing and hearing sessions have been cancelled,” Mr. Martin commented. “We have the permit and we are moving into the construction phase in the next couple of days. Our next steps include preparation for the project while keeping in line with environment guidelines which govern clearing and tree removal and site preparation on schedule while mitigating the impacts to area wildlife and birds by working in a time frame that will not disrupt breeding or nesting habitats.”

Mr. Martin confirmed that the project is still moving ahead on schedule with the turbine foundations to be laid next summer and the turbine construction planned for next fall.

The McLean’s Mountain wind farm project will see 24 wind turbines constructed west of Little Current.

Robin Burridge