A judicial fight over the future of wind turbines in Ontario wrapped up Thursday with the fate of the province’s green energy law in the hands of judges.
On one side is big money, wind energy giants like Samsung and a Liberal government intent on becoming a world leader in creating green energy.
On the other are four families in Huron and Bruce counties whose homes are close to dozens of proposed turbines.
But while it seems a David and Goliath affair, the underdogs have enlisted a legal pugilist who Thursday seemed to dance circles around the arguments of his adversaries, wrapping up a four-day hearing in London with an emotionally-loaded challenge to three Superior Court justices.
“The system has utterly broken down,” said Julian Falconer. “You have been tasked with keeping these people safe.”
Falconer was the most dynamic of lawyers representing four families in Southwestern Ontario battling the building of wind farms.
It’s not the first time lawyers have challenged the Green Energy Act in court. Three years ago, wind opponents lost in court fighting a decision by an environmental review tribunal to allow a wind farm. But the 2011 effort had a handicap this one does not — it was a judicial review, in which judges must give deference to the tribunal.
This time, Falconer wants the three-judge panel to:
Halt, by issuing what’s called a stay, wind farms that are expected to be tested in January.
Rule the environmental tribunal violated the constitutional rights of wind opponents when it refused to allow new evidence from a Health Canada study.
Allow wind opponents to stop wind farms by showing they might be seriously harmed rather than proving they had been harmed.
The judges expect to issue a decision on the stay soon, and while they didn’t specify a date, it’s likely they’ll act by January.
Environmental review tribunals shield their eyes to contrary evidence, Falconer said.
“They keep the blinders on. They’re not interested in new information. They’re interested in getting the turbines up,” he said.
But lawyers for the government and wind companies disagreed, one arguing the Health Canada study only showed a link between turbines and annoyance and the early results hadn’t yet been peer-reviewed.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Darryl Cruz, who represents St. Columban Energy.
The decision by the environmental tribunal was correct and wind companies should be allowed to complete their wind farms, he said.
That’s a position one Niagara wind opponent has been fighting for about four years, moving from her Welland home to keep away from planned turbines.
“It’s just wrong,” Catherine Mitchell said.
Wind opponents say turbines cause dizziness, headaches, heart palpitations and other illness.
The government says that’s wrong and that neighbours are protected because turbines are placed at least 550 metres from homes.
Ontario has more than 6,000 wind turbines built, planned or proposed, mostly in the southwest. Turbines account for about 4% of Ontario’s power.