BY ANDREW SMITH
NORTH PERTH – Parents and community members are speaking out for those who can’t, expressing their concern for special needs children living in the shadow of proposed wind turbines.
When Britton residents Gerald Rathwell and Tammy Medeiros look at the draft site plan for the Conestogo Wind Energy Centre, their first thought is how it could affect their children — in particular, Rathwell’s 25-year-old son Jeremy and Medeiros’ 17-year-old son Cody.
Jeremy and Cody have autism, and both exhibit problems processing sensory information, such as sights and sounds. The concern of Medeiros is how the low-frequency noise produced by wind turbines will affect her son when he is already sensitive to sound.
“Anything like that is really going to set him off,” Medeiros said. “Even the phone ringing, he’s slapping his head and can’t stand the sound.”
In addition to extreme sensitivity to sounds, autistic children often exhibit a fixation on shadows or moving objects. This is where the shadows cast by the large rotating blades of industrial wind turbines can be a concern. Commonly referred to as shadow flicker, these shadows can be cast as far as 1,000 km depending on the size of the turbine.
“For Cody, I know that could bring on a seizure,” Medeiros said. “In a swimming pool, even if he just stares at moving water for too long, he’ll have a seizure.”
For Medeiros and Rathwell, the threat of wind turbines in their backyard will only add to the frustration and confusion they experience when dealing with their non-verbal children and determining what could have triggered a disturbance or a seizure.
S“I can’t imagine throwing in something else that’s going to confuse everybody,” Medeiros said. “If this happens, I guess we’ll have to move.”
Warren Howard, North Perth municipal councillor and representative of Elma Mornington Concerned Citizens, said the draft site plan for the Conestogo Wind Energy Centre from Invenergy Canada very clearly shows Britton in the shadow flicker radius of three turbines, which he said could cause an annoyance to everyone in the village southeast of Listowel.
“Shadow flicker is extremely annoying to anyone who is exposed to it,” Howard said. “Casting these very annoying, moving shadows on your property should not be allowed.”
North Perth council has already been approached regarding shadow flicker by resident Tyler Martin, who took the position that bylaws can be enforced under the Municipal Act of Ontario by protecting the health and well-being of persons. Since then, council has been investigating a nuisance bylaw against shadow flicker, which Howard said could limit the hours of the day that the turbines would be allowed to operate, cutting into Invenergy’s profits substantially.
“If the bylaw is passed, they’ll know it’s there and they’ll have to plan around it,” Howard said. “There are some steps they can take to limit the effect.”
Other parents are concerned about how the wind turbines could affect children in the community. Julianne Terpstra and Nancy Rothwell have children who attend Elma Public School near Newry. As members of the parent council, Rothwell and Terpstra are worried that a nearby turbine could impact the 15 special needs students who work in a contained classroom, as well as 50 others who are part of other programs in the school.
“A lot of the children will be sensory sensitive anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they’re autistic,” Rothwell said. “When they go outside, we don’t know what kind of effect that’s going to have.”
When asked for a comment, Invenergy Canada director of business James Murphy recommended that the Ministry of Environment be contacted for a comment. The MOE did not return a request for an interview as of press time.
Doug Hoshel, the Britton landowner who leased the three turbines in question, said his feelings towards wind turbines have certainly changed since he signed the contract with Invenergy last October.
“I would never sign one now, mainly because of what it’s done to the community,” Hoshel said. “There’s so many unanswered questions I wasn’t aware of when I signed.”
The draft site plan also conflicts with Hoshel’s understanding of the project, which was described by Invenergy Canada as a low-density project with one turbine every 100 acres and no more than three turbines per rural block. The draft site plan now shows Hoshel with three turbines on his 100 acres farm, leaving him feeling like he was misled.
“When you put them that close together, to me in my opinion, that’s not low-density,” he said.
Howard said the time for comments to be part of the formal approval process hasn’t arrived yet, but encourages community members to provide their concerns to the MOE. Under the Green Energy Act, wind energy projects can be denied if they pose a serious risk to human health, which Howard said would apply in this situation.
“Our view is that definitely that would qualify,” Howard said. “As a municipality, we’ve designated Britton, Donegal and all these places as residential communities, and this is going to make it difficult for them to live.”
In Hoshel’s opinion as well, health is the paramount issue at hand in this debate, and doesn’t want to see anyone suffer for his decision.
“The last thing I want is for someone to get sick because of something that’s on my property,” Hoshel said. “I love this community, and I’m concerned about it.”