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  Turbine neighbour prompts noise probe by ministry

By Nelson Zandbergen - AgriNews Staff Writer

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  • BRINSTON -- Leslie Disheau has her ear to the ground in South Dundas, and for 10 days last month, a very powerful ear trained on the sky around her Brinston home as well.

    Ontario's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change installed the basketball-sized microphone atop a temporary 30-foot listening post in her backyard, along with a smaller meteorological tower.

    The ministry's move was prompted by Disheau and partner Glen Baldwin's complaints about nighttime noise emanating from two industrial wind turbines on either side of their place, one to their immediate northwest, the other to the southeast. Comprising part of the 10-turbine South Branch project that went into service earlier this year, both of the nearest units are less than one kilometre away from the home the couple shares with their two teenaged children.

    But Disheau, candidate for deputy mayor in the municipal election and a fierce critic of the turbine industry, feared that developer EDP Renewables was intentionally slowing the two windmills to quiet them down while the ministry data-collection and audio-recording effort was underway with her participation.

    The Houston-based firm almost immediately learned about the microphone on the day of the install, she said with some frustration.

    Located just down the road from the project's main depot, it wasn't more than three hours after the arrival of two ministry trucks in her driveway that EDP called the same ministry to question the presence of those vehicles, according to Disheau.

    She says the audio technician putting up the equipment learned of EDP's inquiry while talking to his office by cell phone, then told her about it.

    Disheau expressed unhappiness that a mandatory post-construction noise report had yet to be publicly filed by the company itself, after putting the project into service in March.

    In the meantime, over a 10-day period in July, the ministry captured its own sound data with Disheau's help. During those times she considered the turbines to be noisiest, she pressed a button inside her home, triggering the recording process via the outdoor microphone, which was tethered to audio equipment in a locked box.

    Comparing the sound to that of a rumbling plane or jet, she got up at night when she couldn't sleep to push the audio recording button located at the end of a long cord connected to the stuff outside. She also kept an accompanying log as part of the initiative.

    The noise is most acute, she said, when the direction of the wind causes the blades to swivel toward her home in perpendicular fashion.

    She scoffed at regulations that mandate 500-meter setbacks to neighbouring homes, pointing out the rule doesn't take into account the cumulative, "overlapping" impact of multiple turbines that surround. Nor does the regulation change with the actual size of a turbine, she adds, asserting that, at 3-megawatts apiece, "these are the largest turbines in Ontario."

    Ultimately, the ministry will use the data collected by Disheau to create a report, which could potentially form the basis of ministry orders against the two offending turbines. "To shut them down at night so that people can sleep," she said with a hopeful tone, though she also acknowledged the ministry may not issue orders. And even if it does, she expects the developer to appeal and appeal.

    Disheau also said there are measures that municipal governments can undertake to curtail the noise, including a nuisance noise bylaw of 32 decibels, which recently survived a court challenge in another Ontario municipality. She espouses such a policy in South Dundas and will push for it at the council table if elected.

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