Enough is enough: Wind industry needs to go on offensive in 2013
When Health Canada announced in July that it would study the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects, the government said it was responding to questions from residents who live near wind farms.
“As always, our government is putting the health and safety of Canadians first,” read a Health Canada statement, which outlined the research approach it would take, while stating that the results would be published in 2014.
John Andrews, president of IPC Energy, a wind energy developer based in Mississauga, was surprised by the move.
The modern wind turbine has been in commercial use since the 1970s. Surely others, especially the Europeans, had more experience than a late-comer like Canada. If turbines were bad for us, wouldn’t the red flags have emerged in Germany and Denmark? Or are Danes and Germans genetically different from Canadians?
By the end of 2012, there was expected to be 280 gigawatts of wind capacity installed worldwide — equaling roughly 140,000 average-sized wind turbines. Even so, a comprehensive study released in early 2012 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health concluded “there is insufficient evidence that the noise from wind turbines is directly causing health problems or disease.”
But that’s not what really bothered Andrews. After all, the more studies the merrier to prove that wind turbines are, in fact, as benign as your electric toothbrush, cell phone or SUV. What raised his ire was the fact that the federal government has yet to do a comprehensive study on the oil sands and its effects on human health.
In a letter to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkag, Andrews asked a simple question: Why the double standard?
Aglukkaq’s response, in a letter dated Aug. 16, stated: “The provinces and territories have the designated authority for determining and mitigating potential health impacts within their jurisdictions for any resource development.
“Health Canada has not undertaken any studies as to the impacts to health from the oil sands developments, as these potential impacts fall within the jurisdiction of the province or territory in which the project receives approval.”
But wind is a natural resource, too. And electricity generation is provincial jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the same reasoning apply to the potential health impacts of wind turbines? Aglukkaq didn’t address this. Indeed, she left out any mention of “wind” in her response to Andrews.
It’s only fair to mention that wind energy isn’t without its problems. The turbines do make noise, becoming an annoyance to some if not properly located. There’s no question that some wind developers need to be more responsible.
Wind turbines do kill birds, but at about the same rate as nuclear power and far less than coal plants, buildings, communications towers and cats.
The wind farm construction process does temporarily kick up dirt on roads, like any infrastructure project.
The turbines don’t generate electricity on demand, but this is manageable with new wind forecasting technologies and when used in combination with demand-response, other forms of generation and smart grid tools, such as energy storage.
For some, they do spoil the view.
But this is a form of electricity generation that emits zero pollution and requires zero fuel. Shale gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing methods is contaminating drinking water in the U.S. northeast. Pollution from fossil-fuel power plants and vehicle tailpipes continue to impose a heavy burden on our healthcare system. Oil pipelines are springing leaks. Offshore oil rigs are running aground in sensitive Arctic waters. The Arctic is melting far faster than our earlier worst predictions. Coral reefs are dying off at an alarming rate. Biodiversity is rapidly dwindling.
There’s plenty to be concerned about in the world — both near and far — and for those of us inclined to speak out, there’s plenty to protest. Given the above, which is a mere sample of humanity’s reckless footprint, it’s perplexing that that a certain segment of the population chooses to treat the wind industry as its punching bag.
Busloads of anti-wind protesters routinely hijack municipal information sessions and council meetings, shouting down wind-industry officials and slinging profanities. The Power Workers’ Union continues to run advertisements that criticize wind and sugar-coat nuclear and coal power.
In July, one anti-wind protester allegedly pulled a shotgun on a London wind-farm worker who was sitting in his vehicle. It hardly made the news. Can you imagine if that happened to an oil sands or nuclear worker?
My own writing about wind issues has also been attacked, having twice been the subject of a complaint to the Ontario Press Council, which tossed out the matter both times.
The Environmental Review Tribunal has been inundated with appeals from wind-farm opponents, who claim turbines harm human health and that a moratorium should be placed on their development. The appeals typically go nowhere because of lack of evidence.
One opponent has gone so far as to argue that wind farms should be disallowed not because it will harm health, but because certain individuals believe wind turbines will make them sick.
By that standard, we should put a moratorium on . . . well, everything.
It’s because of all this that I believe the wind industry, which employs thousands of people in Canada and is an important and growing contributor to our economy, will and should start hitting back in 2013.
Enough is enough.
NOTE: And for those looking to debunk the claims of those against offshore wind, you may want to check out this excellent blog post by Mark Lynas.
Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.