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A wind farm in a corn field in Southwestern Ontario pictured in July 2012. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)
A wind farm in a corn field in Southwestern Ontario pictured in July 2012. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa wades into health debate over Ontario's wind energy Add to ...

The Harper government, an ardent defender of oil sands extraction, is taking a keen new interest in Ontario voters’ concerns that wind power generation may be harmful to humans.

As part of its push to develop a green-energy sector, the Ontario government has encouraged the installation of solar generation and industrial-size wind power turbines. But Ontario’s Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has run into resistance from rural landowners over wind turbines – opposition that may have cost him his majority in the last election.

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His rival, Tim Hudak of the Progressive Conservatives, has courted anti-wind power sentiment. People living close to the massive turbines worry that they hurt property values. Some blame noise from the turning blades for a variety of health problems including disrupted sleep, stress, headaches and nausea.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq indicated this week that Ottawa is now officially getting involved, announcing that the government will underwrite an in-depth scientific study into possible adverse effects of living near wind power projects. She said she was responding to public concern.

The Prime Minister’s Office telephoned at least one anti-wind power group, Wind Concerns Ontario, to alert them the study was being announced this week. The PMO said it is standard practice to call stakeholders when they take action.

Two federal Conservative MPs have also intervened in this matter, calling for a time out on wind-energy development projects in Ontario until the research is complete.

Nepean-Carleton Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre wrote Mr. McGuinty this week asking for a halt to a proposed wind installation in his Ottawa-area riding, saying the Marlborough Wind Farm project should wait until “Health Canada can definitively show that there are no adverse health risks associated with living in close proximity to industrial wind turbines.”

Mr. Poilievre said reputable scientists are divided on whether people living near wind turbines suffer ill effects.

“The problem is we don’t have a lot of scientific inquiry by the federal government to deliver a definitive evaluation of those complaints,” Mr. Poilievre said.

When this study is done in 2014, he said, Canada will have “irrefutable statistical data” on the health impact of turbines and what minimum distances should be placed between homes and turbines.

Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley said Wednesday the province has found no cause for alarm.

“Many earlier studies of wind turbines and human health have been conducted, and the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health reviewed them in 2010 and concluded that there is no scientific evidence of any direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects,” he said.

Still, he said, Ontario will be pleased to read the study.

Mr. Poilievre, who was touring the Alberta oil sands on Wednesday, said he thinks wind turbines should face the same stringent oversight as that governing the extraction of tarry bitumen.

“Just as the oil sands are subject to strenuous public health regulations based on sound research, industrial wind turbines should be no different,” he said.

“In all cases, science and facts should rule our decisions.”

Health Canada, with Statistics Canada, will examine people in 2,000 homes near wind-power projects, including taking hair samples and blood pressure readings. It will paint “a more complete picture of the potential health impacts of wind turbine noise,” Ms. Aglukkaq said this week.

Ben Lobb, Conservative MP for Huron-Bruce in southwestern Ontario, said wind power has soared to the top of the agenda for his constituents. He has also called for a moratorium until better research is done.

“The energy issue is a provincial issue yet it’s the top one or two issues that I deal with as a federal Member of Parliament,” said Mr. Lobb, who estimates there are more than 200 wind turbines in his riding.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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