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Wind Turbines Blow Off Freedom of Speech

Posted: 09/21/11 04:08 PM ET

According to Suncor Energy, Alberta tar sands development is the primary focus of their business. On their website they boast about being the first company to develop the tar sands and take credit for the formation of this controversial industry. In Ontario, Suncor Energy is a pioneer in another field relating to energy exploitation as one of the first company's involved in secrecy shrouded deals to buy people out of their homes who report adverse health effects as a result of living too closely to Suncor owned industrial wind turbines. 

Suncor's eight turbine Kent Breeze development is the only project in Ontario that has been approved since Ontario's Green Energy Act and was subject to the first Environmental Review Tribunal faced by a wind developer.  The Tribunal heard from experts around the world brought in by concerned citizens and Suncor Energy, who was supported also by the Ministry of the Environment. For an Environmental Review Tribunal to be successful under the Green Energy Act those bringing forward the challenge (citizens) must prove that a project 'will result in serious harm.'

Experts called by Suncor and the appellant stated that serious adverse effects would likely occur, and the Tribunal found in it's ruling, "This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans.  The evidence ... demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents."

As concerned residents quickly learned from the Tribunal, 'can' is quite different from 'will' in a legal context and the Kent Breeze project was granted it's final approval to begin operation. 
The Michaud family of Thamesville began suffering adverse health effects that are commonly reported by individuals around the world living near industrial wind developments including nausea, sleep disruption and vertigo that were so severe they resulted in visits to the local emergency room and prescription medications. 

Today a statement of claim totalling $1.5 million dollars was filed by the Michaud's lawyer Eric Gillespie at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice naming Kent Breeze Corp. Macleod Windmill Project Inc. c/o Suncor Energy Services Inc. Gillespie said in a statement, "The government and Suncor's own experts said these kinds of effects would likely occur.  They still went ahead. The claim is based on what appears to be obvious negligence." 

The statement of claim identifies the closest industrial wind turbine to the Michaud residence at 1,146 metres, which is more than twice the 550 metre setback the Government of Ontario has claimed is protective of human health. It also states that the operation of the wind facility is exposing the family to "signficiant audible and inaudible noise, low frequency noise, and light flicker that negatively affect their health, cause vertigo, annoyance, sleep distrubance, despair and exhaustion and have decreased the value of their property." 

Suncor Energy was named as one of many defendants in an application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week by Shawn and Tricia Drennan of Goderich, who are seeking to have the court lift the gag agreements that families suffering adverse health effects who have previously been bought out of their homes have been required to sign as a condition of settlement with industrial wind developers. 

When the Drennan's, whose farm is just 650 metres from the closest proposed wind turbine in their area sought to interview those former residents who had settled with Suncor and other developers, the lawyer representing the former residents acknowledged they are 'prohibited by agreement' from answering questions about their health. 

Julian Falconer, legal counsel for the Drennan's has stated "the concealment by contract of serious public health and safety concerns is fundamentally against the public interest."

How would the Environmental Review Tribunal for Suncor Energy's Kent Breeze project, the source of Michaud complaint, have been impacted if those residents who were in 'timely' negotiations with another Suncor wind project during the tribunal and signing non-disclosure agreements with Suncor were able to testify to their health issues? 

Would the Tribunal still have stated "there are certainly legitimate concerns and uncertainties about the effects of wind turbines on human health" or would the Michaud's have been able to avoid their current situation based on the past experiences of others?

Suncor Energy finds itself once again leading the way in controversial energy matters where the stakes for health and safety and the public interest are all in play. 

 

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