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Turbine 560

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Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) Andrew Barton, District Supervisor; and Rick Chappell, District Manager, attended Saugeen Shores Committee of Whole in Council Chambers April 9 regarding the status of the wind turbine currently operating at Unifor in Port Elgin, following an invitation from councillors earlier this year.

See: Council to invite Ministry rep to Council Chambers

The report presented to Council included information about the turbine as well as an Acoustic-I Audit that was conducted in 2017 and submitted to the Ministry in December. Barton reminded councillors that the turbine which commenced operation in 2013 once ran at 800 kilowatt (kW) and was later de-rated to 500kW. On April 28, 2017, following finalization of the updated Compliance Protocol for Wind Turbine Noise, Unifor undertook the acoustic audit that resulted in only one out of the three locations where noise testing took place obtaining sufficient data.

“Information collected indicated that the Unifor Wind Project was operating in excess of the applicable sound level criteria,” said Barton, who then addressed that a Noise Abatement Action Plan (NAAP) was prepared for the Unifor wind turbine and submitted to the Ministry on March 13, 2018. Implemented in the NAAP is a reduction from operating at 500kW to 300kW during nighttime periods.

After years of contention with Unifor and the Ministry, many councillors took aim at the MOECC representatives on behalf of their constituents, expressing disappointment for what they said is inaction from of the Ministry and a lack of efforts to listen to the people of Saugeen Shores.

Councillor Mike Myatt had in hand approximately 600 e-mails he said he has received since being elected, containing noise and health related complaints. Myatt referenced a World Health Organization report that cited environmental noise, such as noise emitted from wind turbines, as a major public health concern.

Councillor Neil Menage said that the current setback regulations, the minimum distance required between a wind turbine and property lines, is 550 metres and that there are currently Saugeen Shores residents living within those boundaries as the turbine was constructed prior to the setback limits being increased. “The people that live in the area, they're saying they're sick and unwell and who has come in to study those people,” Menage asked. “We’re doing all this noise measurement but are we going into the homes with medical people and saying let’s find out more, that our job, we’re here to look after the people,” he said, adding that while the turbine was compliant at the time of construction, it is not compliant today.

“It’s not compliant to build within 550 metres,” he said.

Barton explained that the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, evidence-based expert assessments, released a report that concluded that “for most of the identified symptoms, the evidence is inadequate to draw a direct link between wind turbine noise and a negative health effect, but that there is sufficient evidence of a causal relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and annoyance.”

Menage then asked the Ministry representatives if in the future it was discovered through the results of further study that the turbine is a health hazard, would it be shut down.

Chappell responded saying the term ‘grandfathered in’ was never used and that the noise limit is still there whether it’s 550 metres or less than 550 metres. “We still have to meet the noise guidelines... so that is not different,” he said, adding that if the Town wishes to conduct a study to contact the Grey Bruce Health Unit.

Councillor Dave Myette hypothesized that the study referred to during the delegation had not surveyed people living within 550 metres of a wind turbine and asked if the MOECC had ever shut down a turbine in Ontario for exceeding noise limits.

“If you're able to de-rate a turbine and if that then drops the noise down to where you meet the limits of the turbine, that’s an option for them,” Chappell responded, adding that they would propose mitigation. “Then we would review that mitigation to determine if that would bring them into compliance with the noise limits,” he said.

“We seem to be just accepting information that comes from Unifor,” said Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber, asking why the Ministry wasn’t more proactive. “How do you monitor that they're actually doing what the abatement policy that has been put in place has required them to do,” she asked.

Huber then suggested that the Ministry do regular inspections. “How long does it have to go before we realize that it’s a bad turbine in the wrong location,” she said, inferring that she would like to see the Ministry support Saugeen Shores.

Chappell told Huber that audits are done through a third party independent consultant, one that was not originally involved in the turbine application; and said that Unifor cannot pick and choose the information they're going to submit. “They have to submit to the Ministry in accordance to our compliance protocol,” he said.

Huber then said she was curious how often the Ministry initiates visits to Unifor and if they are planning to do some in the near future.

“It’s a process,” said Chappell, adding that the acoustic audit is the final stage.

“What I'm hearing you say is there’s really no point for you to show up in Saugeen Shores, you're just going to wait for a report,” stated Huber.

“They currently have a noise abatement plan in place with what they feel is addressing the non-compliance with the noise issues. They're currently collecting data to confirm that the noise abatement plan is in fact working as suspected to be,” replied Chappell.

Huber said she was “a little disappointed that we don't seem to get a commitment to have a little more interest shown.”

Councillor Cheryl Grace referred to the health survey and asked if any individuals from Saugeen Shores had been included. Barton said he didn’t know. Grace then asked if a survey like the one that Councillor Menage suggested could be done with individuals living here in the area.

Barton told Councillor Grace that Huron County Health Unit is currently working on a survey on people living within certain distances from turbines in Huron County “so it certainly is possible for a local health unit to undertake that kind of survey,” he said.

Following the presentation, Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau, who was also acting on behalf of Mayor Mike Smith, said that he was more than a little disappointed and received no assurance that there will be anything done by the Ministry in the future.

“It’s been five years, we’ve had five years of complaints and all along the members of the community were saying, ‘It’s too loud,’ ‘It’s keeping me up at night,’ ‘It’s driving me nuts,’” said Charbonneau. “They were right, it was too loud, we now have audit evidence that says it’s too loud,” he added.

“We also know that all the time when it actually was too loud and people were complaining the Ministry did nothing, they didn’t demand a single thing, they didn't demand an audit,” he said, asking why the Ministry didn’t demand it be de-rated in years previous. “Now, 2018, they’ve finally gotten around to it,” said Charbonneau.

Greg Schmalz, representative of STOP (Saugeen Shores Turbine Operation Policy), said that there were no surprises in the MOECC’s delegation. “Town officials asking all those same hard questions and getting the same half answers,” said Schmalz, noting Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber’s questions as being “right on the money.”

Schmalz went on to say that there needs to be new regulations in the Province of Ontario. “Our turbine as a one-off should never have been built.” He too noted the 550 metre setback rule and that some residents land within that range. “They've allowed a turbine that could not be built today to exist,” he said.

Andrew Barton Rick Chappell

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) representatives answering questions from Saugeen Shores councillors April 9. Andrew Barton, District Supervisor (left), with District Manager Rick Chappell.

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