Wind Turbine Setbacks

What is the residential setback and how was it determined?

The minimum residential setback in Ontario is 550 metres.  The Ministry of Environment established this distance in fall 2009 without supporting health studies.  Previously, setbacks varied because they were determined by the noise limit of 40 dbA.  Computer modeling is used to calculate noise levels at “receptors,” i.e. the homes of people living near wind turbines.

The setback is not measured from the property line but from the centre of a residence.  Consequently, it does not allow landowners full use of their property because it restricts development.

Is there evidence that such a setback causes adverse health effects?

In an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (July 2011), it was concluded that the current setback of 550 m from homes may not be adequate to prevent harm to humans.  “This case has successfully shown that the debate should NOT be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.” [Case Nos.: 10-121/10-122 Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment Environmental Review Tribunal, Decision, p 207] Ontario Ministry of Environment noted: “It appears compliance with the minimum setbacks and the noise study approach currently being used to approve the siting of WTGs will result or likely result in adverse effects …” [MOE memorandum, Ontario Senior Environmental Officer, April 9, 2010; Freedom of Information request; The Ontario Ministry of Environment documents are available at]

The majority of adverse health effects reported worldwide have come from people living within 2 km of a wind project.  The homes of most South Marysburgh residents are within 2 km of the proposed White Pines wind project.

What are safe setback distances for wildlife? 

The Senate of Canada gave unanimous approval to a motion calling for a halt to wind developments within 3 km of the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario (Amherst Island to west PEC) until the “significant threat” to birds and bats is investigated and restrictions are imposed to protect internationally recognized Important Bird Areas. (Nov., 2011; response to a motion put forward by Senator Runciman)

Though it is obvious that wind turbines should not be located anywhere near Important Bird Areas or wildlife preserves, there is no consensus concerning a minimum “safe” setback.  Because most birds and many other species of wildlife travel considerable distances every day, and because their movements do not respect legal boundaries, it is reasonable that minimum setbacks from wildlife areas should be much greater than from human residences.   Yet Ontario’s minimum setback from provincial parks is 100 m.

What are the setbacks in other countries?

Minimum setbacks elsewhere are often greater or setbacks are based on lower noise limits, such as Germany’s 35 dbA for rural areas.  Most of the following countries have setbacks of at least 2 km: Italy, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia (Victoria).  France does not allow anyone even to walk within 500 m of a turbine. In Denmark, landowners are compensated for the depreciation of their property when turbines are erected.  In USA, communities decide whether to accept turbines and proposed setbacks (See documentary Windfall – contact CCSAGE). (March 2009).

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