The round of applause in the packed London courtroom was just one small sign of how jangled nerves are in rural Ontario when it comes to wind farms. During arguments when three farmers were asking a judge to stay renewable energy approvals — and effectively shut down construction for the time being — for projects near St. Columban and Goderich in Huron County, the lawyer for one of the corporate interests suggested the court’s decision could have wide-reaching effects.
“If you follow the logic, you should shut down the wind farms across the province,” said Christopher Bredt, lawyer for the K2 Wind project near Goderich,
There’s nothing the crowd who came to London from as far away as Windsor and Ottawa wants more.
The drive for renewable energy has set up a David-and-Golaith storyline, pitting farmers against corporate giants.
On Monday, the struggle was back in court with the request to stop the renewable energy projects until constitutional arguments can be made before the divisional court Nov. 17.
“It’s just my wife (Trish) and I and some community members,” said Shawn Drennan, the representative challenging the K2 project near Goderich.
Drennan is facing the prospect of 140 wind turbines built in his neighbourhood. He’s already next door to a 24-hectare substation pumping station, he said.
Any public consultation, he said, “was all about telling us what they wanted to us hear and they really didn’t care what we had to ask them.
“Trish and I both came to the conclusion that this is a fight that has to be fought. There’s more here than just the Green Energy Act.”
Drennan is supported by Safe Wind Energy for All Residents (SWEAR) who gathered up people for a small protest before court and invited fed-up farmers from across the province.
“The idea is to stop it so all these turbines don’t decimate the land and the people while we’re waiting on the court decisions,” spokesperson Dave Hemingway of Bayfield said.
“If you put up 140 turbines before you make a decision whether they’re legitimate or not, how do you get rid of them?”
Several other communities are watching the decision closely in hopes of using it as a precedent in their cases.
There are 6,800 turbines in Ontario and 1,900 along the Lake Huron shoreline from Sarnia to Tobermory, Hemingway said.
The crux of the constitutional issue is the potential for serious harm to human health that comes with the approvals made in July by the Energy Review Tribunal.
The lawyer for the farmers, Julian Falconer, said Health Canada is conducting a study, but the health concerns have yet to be proven.
“Money shouldn’t be used to trump public interest and health allegations,” he told Superior Court Justice Lynne Leitch.
“Should my clients be the lab rats while this constitutional issue climbs through the courts?” he said.
Low frequency noise and vibrations from the construction and ultimately the turbines potentially can cause sleep problems and various health concerns, Falconer said.
Bredt, the lawyer for K2, said the motion should be dismissed “on both a factual basis and a legal basis.”
The court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to stay the order, he said.
There’s a mechanism to place a stay on an approval with the Energy Review Tribunal that wasn’t used, Bredt said.
The appellants have to prove serious health problems, he said, and they haven’t met that onus.
Bredt argued the companies have spent millions of dollars already and there’s no basis in law to stop the work until a constitutional issue is resolved — a court case that could take years.
Bredt said that it “might be one or two turbines that could cause an issue.”
He was met with a courtroom of groans.