For some, the appointment of new ministers by the McGuinty government, offered a ray of hope that new thoughts might be employed—especially in the Ministry of Energy where the renewable enery initiative has been plagued with criticisms of poor planning, galloping expense, and a complete lack of insight from other jurisdictions. According to the Auditor General for Ontario, there has never been a cost-benefit analysis done for what the McGuinty government plans, especially for the wind power generation business. And as for the environment, the approval process for industrial wind power projects seems to be nothing more than a rubber stamp.
This past week, Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley appeared on CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning. Interviewer Wei Chen tried her best to get some original thoughts out of the Minister, but here is the result.
CBC RADIO: In principle, most Ontarians support the idea of wind turbines for green energy, but that general acceptance often diminishes with their proximity to you. Many who live near wind turbine developments have concerns about the health impact of low level noise they emit. They’re not comforted by the fact that they can’t be closer than 550 metres from their homes, and they’re angry that the Green Energy Act robs their municipalities of a say in where they can be built.
This morning, we’ll address some of these concerns with the Minister of the Environment. Jim Bradley joins us from Toronto. Good morning.
JIM BRADLEY: Good morning.
CBC RADIO: Now, we have heard time and again on our program that the low level noise and vibration associated with wind power is harming the health of people who live near them. What’s your understanding of those negative health effects?
JIM BRADLEY: Well, we don’t — have not seen evidence that that is the case. Scientists have not found any direct link between wind turbine sound and human health, and we’re certainly reliant upon those scientists. See, wind turbines have been in existence — what? — for more than 40 years in Europe and elsewhere, and there have been a number of studies. It has never been scientifically determined by these scientists that turbines have a direct impact on health.
Ontario, as you know, is taking a cautious approach. We have one of the strictest criteria for sound in North America, including the 550 metre minimum setbacks. This limit is consistent with the World Health Organization’s recommendation for the protection of human health. I know even Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said there’s no direct causal link between wind turbine sound and adverse health effects. That’s the same conclusion drawn by another provincial study done by an independent consultant. Even I think the Chief Medical Officer of Health from Chatham-Kent, whom you had on this program, told your listeners there is no direct* link. That said, we’re always open to new information and we have funded a university chair to do even more research.
CBC RADIO: But that Environmental Review Tribunal that was looking at that wind farm in the Chatham area found that there are negative health impacts from the noise created by the turbines.
JIM BRADLEY: Well, in the same case, the Environmental Review Tribunal recognized that Ontario’s standards for wind turbines’ sound limits are consistent with the — well, with what? — the best available science in this issue and with international approaches. Also in the same decision, the Environmental Review Tribunal upheld the Ministry’s approval of a wind farm, and the wind turbines’ opponents lost that particular case. So all scientific data studied to date indicates there is no direct causal link to health impacts. And as I said, the Ministry will continue to study all emerging technologies and all the health studies as they emerge to ensure our setback and noise limits protect human health and the environment.
CBC RADIO: Why not err on the side of caution, though? Why not rethink even that 550 metre setback? Why not place it a bit further?
JIM BRADLEY: I don’t know whether in any case you would find there’s stricter criteria that are applied. Certainly ours is among the strictest there is in North America. And health studies have clearly indicated that there’s no direct causal effect on individuals’ health with the limits that we have now, which we consider to be, as I say, among the strictest that you will find in North America and around the world.
CBC RADIO: The other controversy sparked by the Green Energy Act has been that its taken control away from local governments. What was the justification for that and is there any need to revisit it?
JIM BRADLEY: Well, Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approvals process requires now that developers of all major wind projects consult with the local municipalities and with the public even before they submit an application to the Ministries. They must inform the local municipality about the proposed project, they have to hold at least two public meetings during the planning stages, and they’ve gotta document all municipal feedback received as part of the application process. So the Ministry considers if the developer has met the consultation requirements and how it plans to address the municipal concerns that happen to have been raised.
I should say my colleague, the Minister of Energy, has also conducted a two-year review of what’s known as the Feed-In Tariff or the FIT program, and I can say that local consultation and the Renewable Approvals process are certainly part of that FIT review. The Ministry of Energy has consulted extensively with the public and other stakeholders, and I certainly, as you do, await the release of that FIT review.
CBC RADIO: Now even the architect of the Green Energy Act, former Deputy Premier George Smitherman has expressed some concerns. He’s admitted that the Act has some failings, and that is that municipalities should have some say. He’s actually recommended that they should be able to weigh in on projects of a larger size.
JIM BRADLEY: Certainly they have those powers at the present time. There’s extensive consultation with local municipalities.
CBC RADIO: Can they actually veto a project?
JIM BRADLEY: But I can say this, that my colleague, the Minister of Energy, he’s conducted a two-year review of what’s known as the Feed-In Tariff, and that’s one thing being looked at by the FIT review. I think the Minister’s very interested in the kind of feedback that has come as a result of concerns that have been expressed, and I expect that he has addressed these in that review. In fact, he has addressed them, and I await the presentation of that to the public.
CBC RADIO: But would you actually give municipalities a veto over projects that they don’t agree with?
JIM BRADLEY: I would not want to presume to come in ahead of that particular review. I think we will see what the Minister has been able to conclude from the extensive consultation that’s taken place with all concerned. And that is one of the areas he will look at.
CBC RADIO: What are municipalities to do though if their bylaws are meaningless under the Green Energy Act?
JIM BRADLEY: I have to say that there is a very extensive consultation that takes place at the present time. The municipal information that is provided to the Ministry is very valuable in making the final determination, and certainly we consider that to be important. It’s not something that’s easily dismissed. The local input often through the municipality, but also through the process that the Ministry has established draws certain conclusions from what the public has put forward and what expert opinion has put forward.
But I think the FIT review is going to be very valuable in this regard. I know the Minister was interested in that as one of the aspects of the FIT review, the Feed-In Tariff review, because he did hear from various people, including some municipalities, that they were concerned about that. There are other municipalities who might be happy to have the Ministry make the final decision, but there are some that genuinely would like to have that final ability to veto. But there is an advantage, I guess, to municipalities in that all of the advantages that might come from a proposal are available to the municipality, and ultimately the Minister has to make that decision, not the municipality.
But I think that FIT review is gonna be very valuable, and I look forward, as I think the public does, to the publication of that FIT review.
CBC RADIO: There are also many who are concerned about the costs. Some critics have suggested that the Green Energy Act has created an unsustainable financial advantage for the corporate wind developers at the expense of property owners, electricity rate payers, and taxpayers. What assurance can you give them — give Ontarians that we will benefit in the long run?
JIM BRADLEY: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to know why we’re doing this. We’re doing it because we’re trying to produce cleaner air in the province of Ontario. We’re trying to find ways of producing electricity that are more benign than the coal-fired plants which we’ve relied upon for a number of years. What we are doing in closing the coal-fired generation and replacing it with cleaner sources by 2014, we’re really engaged in the largest single climate change initiative in North America. It’d be similar to taking 7 million cars off the road.
It’s been estimated that replacing coal with clean, renewable energy has resulted in about $4.4 billion in avoided healthcare and environmental costs, and has created over 20,000 jobs. So there’s a lot of benefit to the people of the province of Ontario. I can remember the Ontario Medical Association for years pointed out that air pollution was a major problem, and that the single largest source of that was the coal fired plants in the province of Ontario. They have indicated, for instance, that 1900 premature deaths that were taking place as a result of air pollution, largely from the coal fired plants in the province. And by replacing these with more benign ways of producing electricity will make a major impact in terms of healthcare costs in this province.
CBC RADIO: Can you address the widespread unhappiness with wind turbines? It cost your party seats in rural Ontario. How aware are you of this anger?
JIM BRADLEY: I think there have been both opponents and proponents. There are a number of people in this province who are very pleased to see the province embarking upon an initiative that would ensure that there would be alternative energy available to people in our area for the health reasons that I’ve mentioned, for the benefits that have come to the province of Ontario, for the fact that we won’t be able to rely on coal fired plants or other fossil fuels to produce electricity. Remember that natural gas someday will run out. Oil someday will run out. And this heavy reliance on fossil fuels will put us really behind the eightball in that regard. I understand there have been concerns. I cannot attribute to what they might be as why seats are lost and so on. Remember the federal Liberal party lost a lot of seats in the province of Ontario as well, and there were different factors at play at that particular time. But we are concerned mostly about the health of the people of this province. And you know, if you have to make those tough decisions which result in better health for the people, a better result for the people, that’s the kind of decisions our government wants to be involved in.
CBC RADIO: Jim Bradley, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.
JIM BRADLEY: Thank you very much.
* a direct link would be when one of the blades fell on your head or if the turbine noise caused hearing loss. No one is saying that.
We’re sure you have a few thoughts of your own now. Email Minister Bradley at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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