Some residents say the wind turbines dotting the landscape of western Norfolk County are a nuisance, even causing harm to their health. Others like them just fine.
SIMCOE REFORMER: DANIEL PEARCE - February 6, 2009
Houghton: The ringing in his ears and the constant headaches started about a year ago.
Ross Moulton has been to his doctor many times and underwent a CAT scan, but so far there is no diagnosis, no reason for his illness.
The 65-year-old soybean and corn farmer has his own suspicions, however.
"I'd like to see a test done to see how much stray electricity is in the air," says Moulton, who lives on the eastern edge of Norfolk County's wind farm, a collection of about 50 giant turbines that generate power for Ontario's grid.
The towers went up close to the farm he has lived on all his life on the north shore of Lake Erie about two years ago and within months his problems started.
Touted as renewable sources of energy that will help cut pollution and global warming, wind farms are supposed to help improve the health of the planet.
But they are increasingly coming under question as anecdotal evidence mounts that the towers and their spinning blades may be harmful to people living close by.
Research by a New York State doctor and author, Nina Pierpont, suggests the culprit is the noise emitted as the blades cut through the air, producing a constant whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, or a low humming.
Constant exposure to these vibrations, some researchers say, can affect the inner ear, causing dizziness, nausea, headaches and sleep disturbances.
Dr. Robert McMurtry, the former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, is calling for the province to study the health impact of wind turbines.
"At a minimum, they should be doing a survey of people around wind farms and getting a sense of how many people are complaining of problems," McMurtry says. "If there is enough evidence, they should mount a formal epidemiological study."
Proponents of wind turbines say this isn't necessary. Sean Whittaker, vice-president of policy for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says the health impacts from wind farms have been studied "in great detail" in various countries.
"So far, all the studies say they have no impact on people's health whatsoever," Whittaker says.
Wind turbines, he adds, "are not the cause of stray voltage. Usually it's attributable to faulty grounding or power issues with transmission lines" in the same area.
Under Ontario regulations, owners of wind farms must study the impact noise will have on a 1,500-metre radius from the towers and file a report with the Ministry of Environment before building.
"We have guidelines in place because of concerns the public have," said Kate Jordan, spokesperson for the MOE.
The ministry, she noted, recently hired an "independent expert" to look at its standards for noise from wind turbines "and he said our policies are sound."
Residents along Lakeshore Road, where there are about 50 towers, interviewed by the Reformer gave the wind farm a mixed review.
The noise, they said, is more of a nuisance than a health hazard.
Junior Atkins, a retired tobacco farmer and former chair of the Norfolk Board of Education, describes the turbines that surround his farm as "a pain in the ass. You have to keep the windows closed at night. Every time you walk out of the house you can see them. It gets on your nerves . . . they're noisy."
On warm summer nights, Carol Baese who lives near Messiah's Corners shuts her windows and puts on the air conditioning.
"I don't mind the coyotes howling. It's the constant whoosh, whoosh," says Baese, who adds the towers also attract lightning strikes in alarming numbers. "I'd prefer if they were not here, but there's not much you can do."
Some residents say the turbines are dragging down the market value of their homes.
Dietrich Jacoby, who lives in a 10-year-old house he built just off Lakeshore Road, says one real estate broker told him the tower 900 feet from his house has "devalued" his land by about $50,000."
He built his home facing north to take advantage of a view across a field, bush, and swamp.
Now his windows face a wind turbine and its slowly revolving propeller.
"It used to be beautiful," Jacoby says. "Now with the tower, it's not so beautiful."
Port Rowan real estate salesperson Ray Ferris says he hasn't heard any complaints about the wind farm and recently sold two homes in the area to buyers who "didn't even mention the windmills. I don't believe there's been a decrease in any prices."
The wind farm has been welcomed into Norfolk County as a source of green energy, a new stream of income for cash-strapped farmers (who rent their land to the companies that own the towers), and as a tourist attraction.
It is even emerging as an icon for the area.
People drive for miles around just to see the turbines. The county recently put up an interpretative centre at the side of Lakeshore Road, a place where motorists can safely park, view the towers, and read what they're all about.
"We're very happy to have them," says Brenda Rebry, who runs the Clear Creek General Store with her son Michael.
A short drive from the roadside stopping area, the store sells souvenir postcards, t-shirts, and ball caps emblazoned with the words "Lake Erie Windmills" and the image of a horizon potted with turbines.
"Sometimes they (tourists) come just to see them," says Brenda.
Some residents support the wind farm.
"We have nothing bad to say about them (turbines)," says Cathy Petker, who has lived with her husband Peter on the same Lakeshore Road farm for 56 years.
The Petkers have rented their land for a tower and estimate they collect about $5,000 a year.
Asked about all the noise and health problems attributed to wind farms, Cathy says: "Sometimes I think it's all in people's minds."
Moulton, however, thinks the towers could be emitting dangerous levels of electricity in the same way transmission line corridors do.
Doctors have tried to rid his headaches with antibiotics and nose sprays, to no avail. "Even pain pills don't work on them," he says.
Moulton fears he may have to leave the farm he's called home for 65 years.
"You work all your life and you're going to retire, what are you going to do -- sell out and move?" he asks.