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April 18, 2023

Wind turbines create environmental noise and pose risks to safety, wildlife, and our water supply. New bylaws must protect people and the environment, says Ottawa Wind Concerns.

The City of Ottawa is in the process of developing new zoning bylaws as a follow-up to approval of the city’s new Official Plan.

As the Official Plan allows for renewable energy (power) projects to be built on

  • “Rural Countryside”
  • Greenbelt and Greenbelt Facility
  • Environmental lands.

it will be important to have appropriate and effective protective zoning bylaws, especially for the residents of rural Ottawa who will likely be living near any sort of power generation or storage project.

The City has posted a series of Discussion Papers and is accepting comments on these documents; there are surveys available for each of the six Discussion Papers but the open-ended comment portion accepts only a limited number of characters as a response.

Ottawa Wind Concerns has filed a comment with the new zoning team at the City. Here are a few of our comments.

On the Equity, Diversion and Inclusion paper, we wrote:

The expressed goal is to discuss “tradeoffs and compromises between competing goals and interests in the hopes of producing a safe, functional and liveable city for everyone.”

The City’s goal of generating power from “renewable” sources includes large-scale wind power projects according to the Energy Evolution document. That will result in industrialization of rural communities, with significant impact on the quality of life including the danger to aquifers, the introduction of noise pollution to the environment, and the reduction of property values which will affect the economic well-being of residents. In short, large-scale wind power development will work against the goal of “environmental health equity”, as described on page 1 of this paper.

Separation distances are mentioned in the paper (page 5) as a way to “prohibit land uses within a certain distance of each other.” The examples mentioned however are “group homes” and shelters. Again, any sort of power generation will be an industrial land use, and in the case of larger scale development will almost certainly be located in the rural areas. For wind turbines in particular, noise emissions and vibration/sound pressure have been demonstrated around the world as a serious impact on people forced to live nearby. Not only do the turbines create noise emissions, but so does power infrastructure such as transformer substations, which can emit harmful low frequency noise or infrasound. Solar power installations have similar infrastructure that can produce noise pollution, as do Battery Energy Storage Systems or BESS, which emit noise, and represent other risks such as fire.

Noted U.S. acoustics expert Robert Rand has said,

“Unlike other power plant technologies which have numerous noise control options, the only reliable noise control for wind turbines is distance.” —Robert Rand, Health Impacts of Industrial Wind Turbines, presentation September 10, 2019.

The setback distances in Ontario in effect today were created prior to widespread wind power development in 2009 and are widely regarded as inadequate. They are not supported by current scientific literature, nor do they align with the trend among many jurisdictions, particularly in the U.S. to establish greater setback distances for health and safety.

Ottawa Wind Concerns has already recommended a setback distance of 2 km between wind turbine zones and residential areas. Acoustician Robert Rand, quoted above, says the 2-km setback is a “reasonable compromise.”

“It isn’t hard to design facilities to be good acoustic neighbours,” Rand says.

Interestingly, the detailed discussion of “pollution” occurs not in the paper on public health but in the Equity paper. We noted:

While this area of the paper focuses on traffic and pollution, the city policy of promoting power generation from “renewable” sources such as wind and solar also represents a risk of pollution, specifically noise pollution. There are many documents supporting this including the Health Canada wind turbine noise study, and the Council of Canadian Academies report, “Understanding the evidence”.

Canadian researchers examined the public health approach to wind turbine noise and concluded:

“Based on our analysis of clinical, biological, and experimental evidence and its concordance with the nine BH criteria, we conclude that there is a high probability that emissions from IWTs, including infrasound and LFN, result in serious harm to health in susceptible individuals living and/or working in their proximity. These effects can be attributed to IWTrelated events such as recurring sleep disturbance, anxiety and stress, and likely others.”

They called upon public health authorities to take a precautionary approach to preventing adverse health effects, and act now:

“With the growing weight of evidence indicating this causation and the rapid proliferation of IWT installations globally, preventative actions should be taken, and policies implemented that are more cautiously protective of public health, safety, and welfare rather than wait for absolute certainty. … Our findings provide compelling evidence that there is a pressing need for risk assessment before deployment of IWT into rural community settings that consider more effective and precautionary setback distances. A margin of safety sufficient to prevent pathogenic LFN from being detected by the human vestibular system is paramount before proceeding with political or economic policies.”

While the introduction of noise to the environment is a serious and likely impact, one that will affect public health, there is another issue: safety. Grid-scale wind turbines operate under enormous stresses; around the world the number of “catastrophic failures” of wind turbines is rising. Some blame poor workmanship, or too speedy installation—whatever the cause, it will be important to have setbacks that ensure safety for people on public lands and roadways. The current setbacks, established in 2009, are not adequate.

Another Discussion Paper is devoted to Land Use Strategy. Our comment:

Our only comment here is that among the land uses listed on page 1, under “Industrial land uses”, power generation is not mentioned. When the city is planning massive power generation development as per Energy Evolution (page 45), such as 36 sq km of solar panels, 3200 megawatts or 700+ wind turbines (each turbine requiring as much as 5 acres of land), and 122 shipping container-sized battery storage systems, that is a significant industrial land use.

The amount of land needed for this adventure appears not to have been considered; it is certainly not discussed. World renowned environmental and energy expert Canadian professor Vaclav Smil noted in his book Power Density that industrial-scale wind is a low-density power source with several negative characteristics including the need for a lot of land: “disfiguration of landscapes is not the only consequence of the limited power densities of wind power. The need to install large numbers of machines tends to reduce the width of noise exclusion corridors, to increase the chances of large-scale bird fatalities, and to affect many terrestrial species as a consequence of the fragmentation of their habitat. In windy and sparsely populated Scotland, the rule is to allow 2 km between wind farms and the edge of cities and villages”.

Smil’s discussion of power density brings up another point: Ottawa’s insistence on wind and solar, both acknowledged intermittent power sources, is not based on any comparative analysis of power generation technologies. Wind power is a low density power source, i.e., it needs a lot of land to produce a small amount of power. Capacity is another concern; wind turbines do not generate power 100 percent of the time. Often we hear wind power developers boast that a wind power project will power X thousands of homes, when the truthful version of that statement would add, “30 percent of the time.”

Similarly, we try to make the point that any kind of power generation is in fact an industrial use of the land. So, in response to the paper on Neighbourhood Character, we made the following comment.

This Discussion Paper deals with building height and type of structures such as low-, mid-rise, and high-rise buildings but nothing approaches what would be happening to Ottawa’s rural villages and homeowners, should grid-scale or industrial-scale wind turbines be installed.

The impact is so severe that property value loss is a significant concern. Some studies have shown that property value loss in other areas of Ontario where wind turbines were built was as much as 50 percent or, in worst cases, house did not sell at all, indicating they had literally no value to prospective buyers in an open market.

When a wind power project was being contemplated nearby, the Town of Henderson NY contracted with Nanos Research and Clarkson University to do a study on the impact on property values. The study states:

We see that parcels with a view of the turbines sell for a positive premium (approximately 10%) before the turbines are built, but that this premium is more than eroded by a strong negative impact after turbine construction. 

The estimated coefficient of -0.164 that describes this effect implies a 15% decrease in property values for homes with a view after the turbines are built. We also calculate a 95% confidence interval for this effect, which tells us that, given the observed data, there is a 95% chance that the true effect is a decrease of between 5.1% and 23.9%.

So, while we can’t be confident that the effect is exactly negative 15%, we are reasonably confident that there was a negative impact.”

We must ask, what homeowner can tolerate a drop of more than 20 percent in the value of their home? Particularly for young families already struggling with the cost of home ownership, or people on fixed incomes who are relying on the value of their homes to support them in later years? What kind of zoning bylaw policy proceeds with this type of dramatic economic impact?

In response to the Rural Zoning Issues paper, we again focus on the nature of land use, and also refer to the potential for effects on groundwater.

The paper also refers to the Energy Evolution plan, and states that “Renewable electricity projects will need to contribute an estimated 8.5% of our electricity sources in Ottawa” (page 6). There is no reference provided for this figure, and to the best of our knowledge, the 8.5 percent figure does not appear in the public Energy Evolution document. Where did that come from? What is the basis for this “requirement”? Is there any input from Hydro Ottawa or Hydro One?

Another statement is puzzling: “Local energy production and storage … can help reduce the impact of power outages from the large producers, which are occurring more frequently due to more extreme weather events.” With all due respect, this is preposterous. When there are “weather events” such as freezing rain or tornadoes or whatever, the power from “large producers” such as Ontario’s nuclear power generating stations or hydro facilities is not absent—it simply cannot be transmitted because of problems with the transmission system, usually, broken or downed power lines.

Under Environmental Protection is a brief discussion of the need for protection of natural environment areas and wetlands, and a previous paragraph deals with surface water. The risk to aquifers is not mentioned anywhere yet this is a major concern whenever wind and solar power projects are proposed. The foundations for wind turbines are huge, as you can imagine for 60-storey, vibrating structures. The risk to aquifers has been the subject of appeals of other wind power project approvals, notably the Nation Rise project south of Ottawa, which is located on a provincially designated fragile aquifer. In the North Kent area of Ontario, a wind power project proceeded over citizen concerns and today, dozens of families are without potable water. A provincial health review study found that there was a link to the construction and operation of the wind turbines on the fragile aquifer, and more study is currently underway.

The Ontario Ground Water Association has expressed concern about wind turbines and put out this statement: “Proper environmental analysis is necessary before choosing an appropriate location for wind turbines to ensure there’s no impact on #groundwater resources.

The comment was filed with the engagement team at newzoning@ottawa.ca

While citizens can use the surveys attached to each grouping of Discussion Papers, people might want to create their own, longer comments and file them, using the email referenced above.

Sign the petition

Ottawa Wind Concerns has also launched a petition to formally ask for a 2-km setback for wind turbines and homes. You may download it here: Petition

You can fold it into a mailer and send to: Wind Concerns, PO Box 91047 RPO SIGNATURE CTR  KANATA ON  K2T 0A3