OTTAWA -- The federal government is launching a $1.8-million study to see if windmills make people sick.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Tuesday the government has heard from a number of Canadians worried about the health impacts of wind turbines installed near their homes. The study will help paint a more complete picture of the effect of wind farms, she said.
Health Canada officials said Wednesday the study will be completed by the end of 2014 and the results published in scientific journals sometime in 2015. They said the results will only be one of the studies used to help drive government policy on the future of wind power in Canada.
Wind energy is blowing across Canada with gusto, with wind farms in every province and one territory producing 5.4 gigawatts of power each year. It's enough to power 1.2 million homes and amounts to about two per cent of Canada's total electricity use.
That is a seven-fold increase in the last seven years. By 2025, wind power is on track to be providing one-fifth of Canada's electricity.
In Manitoba, two wind farms -- one in St. Leon and one in St. Joseph -- spin out 253.5 megawatts of power each year, enough to power about 90,000 homes.
The Manitoba government wanted to have 1,000 megawatts of wind power online by 2015, but a number of factors have slowed the investment in wind in the province. Those include the end of a federal program that helped subsidize wind-farm construction and a low price on the export market, which has made Manitoba Hydro less enthusiastic about buying more power.
Hydro buys the power generated by both Manitoba wind farms.
The study will survey 2,000 people who live within 10 kilometres of a wind turbine with a 25-minute questionnaire and several months of monitoring health issues such as blood pressure and sleep time.
Todd Braun, a stonemason who lives in the RM of Montcalm, said since the 60 wind turbines were turned on at the St. Joseph wind farm 18 months ago, he and his wife have experienced headaches and fatigue from lack of sleep.
Braun was outspoken about the turbines before they were built and said he is reluctant to speak up because of backlash from his community.
"I never had issues with headaches before," he said. "When the wind is really blowing... we will wake up at nighttime with headaches."
After a couple of days of low wind, they start to feel noticeably better, Braun said. He welcomes the Health Canada study as a way to help prove what he is feeling.
A number of similar complaints have come from Ontario residents, including some who say they have been forced from their homes by the turbines. The main issue is whether the low-frequency noise caused by the turbines leads to health complications. Complaints have included nausea, sleeplessness, headaches, heart palpitations and strokes.
Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said he is unaware of any health complaints related to the turbines, though he said any complaints would be redirected to the power companies that operate the turbines. He said there are no immediate plans to add more wind turbines in Manitoba.
A spokeswoman for Algonquin Power, which operates the St. Leon wind farm, could not be reached Wednesday.
Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said in a written statement the government study will add to the existing research on the subject. The balance of scientific evidence to date suggests wind farms do not have an impact on human health, he said.
"Wind energy is broadly understood to be one of the safest and most environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation," he said.