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A mighty wind 

Nova Scotia's tough new renewable energy targets also target the health of rural residents.

Nova Scotia’s energy minister was delivering a prepared speech atop Dalhousie Mountain, Pictou County last Friday when he suddenly stopped to observe, "My god, it’s quiet isn’t it?" Bill Estabrooks was standing beneath the barely-turning blades of a 400-foot wind turbine. Six of nine turbines in the distance stood stock still. Seemingly unaware of the irony, Estabrooks touted provincial plans for more industrial wind factories. The NDP hopes that within 10 years, 40 percent of our electricity will be produced from renewable sources such as water, wood and most of all, wind.[1] [2] Except that on the day of the big announcement, there was barely a breeze, underscoring the unfortunate fact that wind turbines produce electricity only about a third of the time, often when there’s little demand for it.[3] [4]

The 34 turbines on Dalhousie Mountain, where Estabrooks and Premier Darrell Dexter announced their renewable energy targets, stretch for 10 kilometres and cost $130 million.[5] They generate only about 1.3 percent of Nova Scotia’s power. In fact, all 79 wind turbines in the province generate only about 2.8 percent of our power.[6] That means that if the NDP politicians don’t come to their senses, many more gigantic wind turbines will march across the landscape as the government strives to more than double renewable electricity generation by 2015 and to quadruple it by 2020. And that raises this question: What will we do two thirds of the time when the wind isn’t blowing?

The government’s answer is that wind can be backed up by burning natural gas.[7] Some experts warn, however, that turning ordinary gas turbines up and down to match wind fluctuations is wasteful, inefficient and could actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Better, they say, to invest in more efficient systems such as the one at Tufts Cove in Dartmouth where Nova Scotia Power is spending $84 million to recover waste heat from two gas turbines to power a steam turbine. Investing in such combined-cycle turbines would be cheaper than spending hundreds of millions on wind turbines that need to be backed up by natural gas anyway. Why build two generation systems when one would do?[8] [9]

Besides, avoiding building more industrial wind factories would protect rural Nova Scotians who will be increasingly exposed to noisy turbines as the pressure grows to meet renewable energy targets.[10] [11] Darrell Dexter says there’s no scientific proof wind turbines cause harm,[12] but several peer-reviewed scientific studies say otherwise.[13][14] The premier also seems to have forgotten his 2005 conversation with Ward and Mae Brubacher, a couple in their 50s, who live 750 metres from two turbines on remote Fitzpatrick Mountain, Pictou County. Ward says when strong winds blow, the noise vibrations are like the booming of car stereo speakers. "Many times we have laid awake in bed with all the windows shut in the house listening to the whompf, whompf, whompf," he says. "You get up, you read, you wait until you’re exhausted so you can sleep through it."

Mae says she’s been forced to stop gardening and drive into Pictou to get a break from the noise. "Sometimes it’s four to five days in a row when it’s really loud. You’re losing sleep and there are certain days when you’re stressed to the limit. Then you finally get a break." The Brubachers generate electricity from a solar panel and live completely off the grid. "We’re not against green energy," Ward says, but wind turbines are destroying their peace and quiet.[15]

Meantime, a group of residents who live in Pictou County wrote to the minister of health this month requesting a temporary halt to industrial wind factories. The residents, members of the Eco Awareness Society, are opposing the installation of wind turbines on Browns Mountain about 1,440 metres above their homes. They sent the minister hundreds of pages of affadavits and testimonies from all over the world documenting the health effects of industrial wind including insomnia, migraines, dizziness, depression and problems with mental concentration and memory. They’re hoping Maureen MacDonald will order an independent scientific study of the health effects of wind power before the province embarks on its long and windy, dead-end road.[16]

Notes:

1. The province’s Renewal Electricity Plan is outlined in a clearly written, 28-page background report which states on page 16: "Wind will be the mainstay of our efforts to reach the 2015 renewable energy commitment..." and, "It seems likely that the largest portion of new renewable energy in 2020 will come from wind..."

2. The provincial background report (see link in footnote #1) acknowledges the intermittency of wind on page 19: "A key obstacle to the development of renewable energy is the fact that our best renewable sources — wind and tidal — are by their nature intermittent. Because they depend on natural forces that come and go, intermittent sources cannot provide a constant stream of electricity."

3. A wind factory’s average power output can be expressed as its "capacity factor." The Lightbucket blog explains: "The capacity factor of a power plant is the ratio of the electrical energy produced in a given period of time to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous maximum power operation during the same period." Lightbucket’s Table 1 shows an average world capacity factor for wind of only 19.6% in 2006.

4. The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) which represents industrial wind producers boasts that the capacity factor at a PEI wind farm --- "sited in one of Canada’s windiest locations" – has a capacity factor of 40%.

5. Info from Firelight Infrastructure Partners, investors in the Dalhousie Mountain project from a fact sheet distributed to the media on April 23/10.

6. Figures on Dalhousie Mountain wind generation and total Nova Scotia wind generation verified by Nova Scotia Power, April 26/10.

7. See the provincial background report (link in footnote #1), page 19: The report describes natural gas as "clean and local" and adds that it is the best choice of fuel for backing up intermittent wind generators. "Although it is a fossil fuel, natural gas burns far cleaner than coal or oil. It releases less carbon, much less sulphur dioxide, fewer nitrogen oxides, and virtually no ash or particulate matter. Unlike coal fired plants, gas turbines can start up and shut down quickly to match changes in the wind and tides. Nova Scotia has substantial deposits of natural gas offshore and onshore. Its use also benefits our economy." On pages 23-24, the provincial background report discusses the possibility of importing hydro-electricity from Hydro Quebec and/or Labrador as a back up for wind. It makes it clear, however, that expensive new transmission lines would have to be built. "Unfortunately, at the moment, Nova Scotia is almost an island in terms of electricity." Nova Scotia would also have to change its rules to allow imported back-up power to be counted as part of its renewable energy targets. At the moment, power must be generated in Nova Scotia to qualify as renewable.

8. Based on a report by Peter Lang, a retired Australian engineer with 40 years experience with a variety of energy/electricity projects. In a report entitled, "Cost and Quantity of Greenhouse Gas Emssions Avoided by Wind Generation", Lang concludes that: "1. Wind power does not avoid significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. 2. Wind power is a very high cost way to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. 3. Wind power, even with high capacity penetration, can not make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

9. For details on the Tufts Cove combined-cycle system see the N.S. Power website

10. See, Nina Pierpont’s recent book "Wind Turbine Syndrome."

11. For comprehensive information on health risks and effects see: http://www.savewesternny.org/docs/pierpont_testimony.html

12. During the media scrum at Dalhousie Mountain on April 23/10, I asked Premier Dexter about possible harm to the health of rural Nova Scotians. He replied: "Well, as you know, this is something that’s been looked at through numerous peer-reviewed studies. They have not found any connection between wind farms and people’s health, but we know that those questions get raised so we’re continuing to monitor the science in relation to it and to see if there’s anything that should give rise to concern." The premier appeared to be basing his comment on a study of available scientific literature commissioned by the Canadian and American wind energy associations. It is called: "Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects." Nova Scotia Power gave me a copy in an attempt to refute claims made by Nina Pierpont and other doctors (see footnote #10).

13. For sharp criticism of the industry association report see an updated version of the paper entitled "Summary of Recent Research on Adverse Health Effects of Wind Turbines."

The original paper can be found here.

14. Allison Denning, regional environmental assessment coordinator at the federal health department sent a letter to the provincial environment department on August 6, 2009 formally objecting to a statement made by proponents of the Digby Wind Power Project. Denning writes: "The final sentence in Appendix B states that ‘there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health’. In fact, there are peer reviewed scientific articles indicating that wind turbines may have an adverse impact on human health." Denning then lists eight such studies.

15. I had two conversations with Ward and Mae Brubacher. One by phone on March 1, 2010 and the second in person when I visited them after the NDP Dalhousie Mountain announcement on April 23/10. I played them Darrell Dexter’s comment denying any health effects and they mentioned having discussed their noise problems with him during a meeting organized by their neighbour. Other selected quotes: Ward: "Some days it’s so noisy we have to come in the house, shut all the windows and doors and turn on the TV." Mae notes that thankfully there are days when the wind doesn’t blow very hard and peace and quiet returns: "When it goes on all day, it creates a lot of stress. If this were to go on all the time, we’d have to move." Ward: "It’s definitely a better way to generate electricity, but there’s another side to this. These big wind farms are in our faces, disrupting the natural landscape. Sure they are a marvel to look at. But if they’re in your view all day that’s a sacrifice as well." The Brubachers operate a small business that helps rural property and woodlot owners create their own nature trails and recreational facilities. The two .8 MW wind turbines near them are owned and operated by Shear Wind Inc., a company based in Bedford, N.S. For the Brubacher’s blog, see here.

16. For more on the Eco Awareness Society see here.

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