There are few topics more controversial in rural Canada than the impact of industrial wind turbines. In almost every community where they are in place or planned, local opposition groups are working to get rid of them through political pressure and court challenges.
When it was recently announced that a major wind turbine development near Listowel, Ont. would not be going forward, MPP Randy Pettapiece said, “The end of this project is nothing less than a victory for those who did not want industrial wind turbines imposed on their communities. It is a victory for the grassroots organizers who worked tirelessly to preserve their neighbourhoods, their farms and their way of life.”
Those opposed to wind turbines say they cause health issues for nearby residents and animals, they’re ugly and they lower property values. Proponents say they provide renewable energy and are environmentally friendly, and can provide other economic benefits to the community.
A recent study analyzed more than 7,000 home and farm sales in Melancthon Township and 10 surrounding townships in Ontario, where there are dozens of wind turbines. It concluded that the wind turbine developments have no effect on property values.
“Our results do not corroborate concerns raised by residents regarding potential negative impacts of turbines on property values,” says Richard Vyn, a professor in the Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph, who conducted the study along with Ryan McCullough, a graduate student who is now a policy analyst for Health Canada.
Vyn says they expected to find a negative correlation, especially for residential properties. “It’s been in the news for a while now, and it seems to be generating more and more concerns among local residents,” he says. “I wanted to see whether the stories people are telling and the concerns they are expressing show up in the sales data.”
The study looked at sales data from 2002 to 2010, capturing property values before, during and after the wind farm’s development. More than 1,000 homes and farms were sold (some more than once).
“Melancthon Township was one of the first major wind farms in Ontario,” says Vyn. “Since that time, the attention that the issue has received and the public backlash has really escalated; the wind farms that have developed since then have received a lot more resistance and attention.”
Now he is planning research that will include all of Ontario. “I’m very curious about whether we will get similar results across Ontario or whether there will be variation – if we will find a relationship between the amount of resistance a municipality receives to a wind farm going up and potential impacts on property values.”
Two earlier studies by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), which is responsible for assessing and classifying property in Ontario for municipal tax purposes, came to a similar conclusion as the University of Guelph research.
A 2008 study found that “the presence of industrial wind turbines that are either abutting or in proximity to a property did not have a positive or negative impact on the value of assessments,” MPAC says.
It says that in response to the growing number of wind turbines in the province, the corporation did another study. It found that properties located near wind turbines “are equitably assessed in relation to homes at greater distances” and that “there is no statistically significant impact on sale prices of residential properties in these market areas resulting from proximity to (a wind turbine) when analysing sale prices.”
To verify the results, MPAC says it commissioned an “internationally recognized expert in the field of mass appraisal and ratio studies to review the report and its findings. This expert has confirmed the findings in this report.”
It’s unlikely that those who oppose wind turbines will agree with these results, just as they disagree with a recent Health Canada study. It concluded that “no evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported or measured health endpoints examined.
However, the study did demonstrate a relationship between increasing levels of wind turbine noise and annoyance towards several features (including noise, vibration, shadow flicker and the aircraft warning lights on top of the turbines) associated with wind turbines.”
In response, a group of Ontario municipal councillors and residents called the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Working Group wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that, “Over the past several years we have received a growing number of delegations from constituents whose health has been adversely affected by proximity to the wind turbines. It is not easy to listen to people who continue to suffer from ringing and pressure in the ears, pounding vibrations in the head and chest, nausea, dizziness and the ongoing inability to sleep. Their stories are especially disturbing because we know these people; we know they are not lying; and it is our responsibility under the Municipal Act to protect their health.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) recently released a study of all the studies by Robert Hornung.
“This document is an important new contribution to the scientific literature on wind turbines and human health and captures the advances in our scientific understanding since CanWEA first commissioned such a review five years ago,” says CanWEA president Robert Hornung. “We will continue to monitor scientific research in this area but it remains clear that the balance of scientific evidence to date continues to show that properly sited wind turbines are not harmful to human health and that wind energy remains one of the safest and most environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation.”
Written by Jim Adair