Friday, August 13, 2010

Green Party Voting, Part 4: Greens Question Commitment to Wind Energy

Proposed policy motion G10-p25, Wind Turbine Health Studies, was greenlighted by the Membership through the online voting process, receiving support from a majority 66.3%of members. On the surface, this motion appears to actually do little more than call for a study to be undertaken by Health Canada. What the net result of its approval might do, however, is call into question our Party's commitment to alternative energy sources.

For the purpose of discussion, I'm going to reproduce the motion in its entirety here, including the inoperative Whereases, which shed some light on what the authors of the motion were trying to get at. Take a close look at the motion, and you'll see that there isn't actually any reference to something called “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, but really, the motion alludes to WTS in a significant way. Here's the motion:

Motion Preamble:

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada recognizes the vast potential for wind energy in Canada;

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada with the Canadian Wind Energy Association has set goals for Canadian wind energy generation;

WHEREAS many citizens in communities with wind turbines claim to be experiencing sleep deprivation, headaches, and heart complications related to wind turbines;

WHEREAS one of the largest obstacles preventing accelerated wind energy development is resistance from citizens near planned turbine sites;

WHEREAS the largest investment Canadians make, their home, is affected as much by real health risks as perceived ones;

WHEREAS many provincial governments have compromised their objectivity with respect to wind energy development;

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada considers healthy people and healthy communities as necessary for a strong Canada;

Motion Operative:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Green Party of Canada seeks to have Health Canada initiate an epidemiological study on the human health effects of wind turbines in the interests of public health and safety.

What might the effects of the operable clause be? How will the operable clause actually play itself out when Green MP's are elected to parliament? Will Green MP's remain defacto advocates for wind energy, as per Vision Green 2010, or will we need to qualify our support for wind energy by stating that until an epidemiological study is carried out by Health Canada, sorry, the jury is out on new projects.

An additional concern: no matter what we say on the campaign stump, there is now an increased likelihood for other parties to point to this new policy of ours and question whether we are really committed to wind energy as a viable alternative energy source. They'll question why our Party has bought into the coffee-table book notion of WTS being espoused by every NIMBY organization in Canada which opposes wind turbines wherever they may be. They'll ask us what about all of the other health studies which have been conducted throughout the world which arrive at the same conclusion: there are no noticeable health impacts from turbine blades.

Now, I know that I'm simplifying this issue quite a bit, and I don't profess to be an “expert” on wind energy. What I do know is that the NIMBY crowd has been making a lot of hay out of WTS, and generating a lot of kerfuffle in the media. I also know that the we in the Green Party have always prided ourselves on basing our policies on the best available science of the day. And with regards to the science behind WTS, there just isn't any credible, peer-reviewed science out there; there is only junk science.

Again, while the policy we've just adopted doesn't come right out and put our Party in opposition to wind power, it certainly questions our commitment, as the “Party Opinion / Considerations” which preface this motion attempted to red-flag for the voters.

This new policy of ours is going to be an albatross around our necks. I sincerely hope that Cabinet keeps this out of our platform until it can be revisited in the future. I'm saddened and embarrassed that our Members didn't take into consideration the political consequences of this anti-wind generation motion before voting to green-light it.


Rural said...

Steve, I don’t often totally disagree with you but on this one I must, it is NOT an “anti-wind generation motion “ but a pro “lets do it right” motion. There are impacts to nearby residents from these large wind turbine installations and an independent study detailing exactly what they are would ensure that such impacts would be minimized in the future. The GPC cannot afford to ignore the large number of communities (in Ontario in particular) that are opposed to such installations in part due to such considerations, wind power yes, but with due consideration for the hosting communities health and lifestyle concerns.

Jean-Luc Cooke said...


I am the author of the motion and welcome discussion on this policy. To start, here are some references:

G10-p25 Motion page []
G10-p25 discussion page []

I want the GPC to reach and exceed the aggressive wind power goal stated in Vision Green in cooperation with the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

The reality is a very vocal group (NIMBY's if you prefer) are presenting opposition to wind power development because of the perception of health risks. Perception alone affects property values, stress levels and quality of life.

Our party mantra is "Healthy People, Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet". The motion upholds this philosophy by respecting the sensitivities of our potential voters and takes the long view on wind power.

If there are no health effects from wind power – let’s put the issue to rest. If, on the other hand, there are truly human health effects from living in close proximity to these machines – it is our responsibility to make sure we do it right. I might add that we are the only party showing any sign of "doing green energy right".

High voltage electrical transmission lines faced the same stigma in the 1980’s and it was addressed by performing a conclusive epidemiological health study leading to setback regulations (and in rare cases compensation) for homes and businesses. At that point, anyone still complaining was conclusively in the NIMBY sphere.

Jean-Luc Cooke
Nominated Candidate for Nepean--Carleton (just outside Ottawa)

JimBobby said...

It is precisely because there isn't any credible scientific studies that confirm or negate WTS that a resolution to do such studies makes perfect sense.

In Ontario, prior to last year's Green Energy Act, wind turbine setbacks from residences was largely unregulated and often left up to municipal governments to decide. Some projects were completed with setbacks much smaller than now allowed under the GEA. The GEA's setbacks are still shorter than in some more experienced European jurisdictions.

I think your fears of finger pointing by our competitors is unfounded. In our previous version of Vision Green, we called for motor fuels to have 10% ethanol content and we didn't specify where that ethanol came from. In 2008, the world food crisis pointed a finger at crop based ethanol as possibly the biggest contributing factor to the steep rise in grain prices. Millions starved to death. A new proposal was drafted to lower the ethanol content to 5% and to specify that only cellulosic ethanol should be used. There was no hew and cry that the GPC was abandoning a commitment to alternative fuels.

Steadfastly sticking to what at first seems like a no-brainer can be far worse than reconsidering policies based on experience and new fact finding. We cannot convince the public to accept a technology with much negative PR unless we can counter that PR with the studies called for in the motion operative. Several Ontario municipalities have called for or enacted a moratorium on turbine installations. You can't counter those calls without hard science on your side.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong to attribute all criticism of IWT to "nimbyism". Very bigoted and uninformed. Give your head a shake please.