A controversial wind farm proposal in Clearview, Ontario appears to have hit a snag, as yesterday the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that its opponents have the right to launch legal action against it if and when it is approved.
The decision was hailed as a victory for opponents of the proposed project. Eric Gillespie, whose firm Cunningham & Gillespie LLP is acting for the plaintiffs in the action says: “There are many people who have been waiting to see how the courts would respond to these types of claims. It now seems clear that as soon as a project is approved residents can start a claim. This appears to be a major step forward for people with concerns about industrial wind projects across Ontario.”
The proposal, by developer WPD Canada Limited, was to build eight wind turbines. It was rejected by Clearview township 7-2 last August. A report drafted by the town’s director of planning and development, Michael Wynia, cited, among other factors, concerns about health risks and noise levels.
Gillespie, whose firm has acted for clients in at least ten other cases in Ontario where wind farms have been approved, says he expects more legal action as a result of the Ontario Superior Court’s decision. The court, noted the firm, acknowledged a 22% to 50% loss of property values in affected areas. Last year Gillespie told the the Toronto Star that in the East Lake St. Clair wind project near Wallaceburg, Ontario, some claimants should be compensated for the full value of their properties because they could find no buyers at all.
Last August, WPD Canada was hit with a $14-million civil lawsuit from Prince Edward County residents concerned that the company’s 29-turbine White Pines wind project would negatively affect their property values.
So are these cases against wind farms about health concerns or property values?
Most all wind farm opponents, including those in the Clearview case, present evidence citing the potential health risks wind farms present. In this case, the court heard from Dr. Robert McMurtry, whom Cunnigham and Gillespie describe as a “medical doctor and internationally recognized and published author on the health effects of industrial wind turbines.”
McMurtry told the court that “There is also a high probability that the proposal will cause one or more of the following adverse health effects at the plaintiffs’ properties: sleep disturbance, annoyance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, visual blurring, tachycardia, irritability, problems with concentration and memory, and/or panic episodes.”
Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, looked at wind farms in Australia and found that more than two-thirds of complaints that had been made by people living near wind farms were in areas that were heavily targeted by anti-wind farm lobbyists.
“The advent of anti-wind farm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) was also strongly correlated with actual complaints being made,” says the report.
Chapman, in a piece written last year for Australian news site The Conversation says the medical evidence against wind farms is less than thin.
“…wind turbine syndrome” (which incidentally produces zero returns from the United States National Library of Medicine’s 23 million research papers) is what we can call a “communicated” disease: it spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition.”
Chapman says the medical evidence simply doesn’t stand up to peer review.
“There have now been 17 reviews of the available evidence about wind farms and health, published internationally. These are reviews of all studies, not single pieces of research. Each of these reviews have concluded that wind turbines can annoy a minority of people in their vicinity, but that there is no strong evidence that they make people ill,” notes Chapman. “The reviews conclude that pre-existing negative attitudes to wind farms are generally stronger predictors of annoyance than residential distance to the turbines or recorded levels of noise. In other words, people who don’t like wind farms can often be annoyed and worried by them: some might even worry themselves sick.”
No one wants the value of their property to fall because of any project, and Ontario residents should have sympathy for those people who have seen the value of theirs drop by half, in some cases. But the peer reviewed evidence dispelling wind farm sickness raises should raise a simple, singular point: why should property values be dropping at all?