Toronto Hydro Windfarms off Scarbourough Bluffs

View of the lake

Last night, I attended a meeting set up by Toronto Hydro about their future plans to build a wind farm in lake Ontario along the Scarborough bluffs approximately 2 km from shore. They would stretch approximately 24km, from Ajax to the Leslie Street Spit. They expect to have 60 turbines, I believe in rows 3 deep.

They’re only in the preliminary stages, and plan to test the offshore wind first. Their plan is to build at anemometer to measure wind speed for two years, before deciding whether the wind farm is feasible. The anemometer will be placed in the lake across from my neighbourhood, Guildwood. Therefore, the meeting was scheduled in the auditorium of the local high school.

An earlier meeting was located in a small church basement, which soon filled to capacity, and with a line of people still standing outside, Toronto Hydro wisely decided to reschedule the meeting to a larger venue. Most of the people I spoke to in line were opposed to the idea of the wind farm. I could tell that emotions were high, and I was sad to say, conspiracy theories abounded. People were handing out leaflets that described the horrors of living near a wind farm: health dangers, property values would drop, etc. I wasn’t impressed.

But before I proceed, I had better state my views. I was shocked when I heard about the wind farm. Many of us who live near the bluffs are emotionally attached to them. Scarborough is often unjustly maligned, and those bluffs make up for it a little bit. The view across the lake is stunning – the wide expanse of the lake, be it a sunny, shiny blue or a cloudy slate gray is a sight to be seen. And although I love the look of wind turbines, there’s something stately and elegant about them, I could not imagine a wall of them running across the entire view. Those of us who live in the Guild know what I’m talking about. Here are a couple of my “sigh” moments: At the top of Guildwood Parkway near Kingston Rd, just before you descend into the neighbourhood, you catch a glimpse of the lake over the trees. Ahhh. Why travel home along ugly, busy Kingston road, when you can travel south along Morningside. When you reach the end and turn along Guildwood parkway, there’s the lake. Majestic. Ahhh.

I thought to myself: please, put a wind turbine in my back yard. But please, please, don’t spoil the lake. I felt a little guilty. After all, I’m talking about aesthetics here. Perhaps I was being shallow. Still, in my gut, I couldn’t help but feel it was wrong. Reid disagreed with me. He thought it would be cool to have them in the lake. By the time I got to the meeting last night, as I told Tim, an acquaintance I met there, I was wavering.

At the meeting, Toronto Hydro gave an overview of their project. I liked their presentation – they were well prepared, and dispelled a few myths. They made it clear that they wanted to make the meeting about the anemometer, as there is no decision yet on whether to proceed with the wind farm (in fact, they would require a full Environmental assessment before they could proceed with that). But they were dreaming, the meeting would of course be about the potential wind farm. Their presentation was brief (about 40 minutes) and then they opened the floor to questions. They were smart: they brought a facilitator who laid the ground rules: let a person speak, no interruptions, etc. The crowd ignored it, for the most part. You could feel the tension in the air. (I called Reid and told him I wasn’t sure I’d get out of the room alive.) But the facilitator was crucial – I think he prevented bloodshed.

Those who wanted to ask questions had to line up behind two microphones. What seemed like half the room emptied as people scrambled for the microphones. As the questions (or rather comments) proceeded, I became a little shocked. Representative after representative of pro wind farm environmental groups gave their comments. Most were passionate pleas for clean energy, and how we could not wait – we needed more wind farms now! But I was concerned: after about 20 representatives spoke, where was the other view? Where were the residents?

The crowd started to get angry, and I didn’t blame them. “Where do you live?”, they’d shout. I was wondering, too, where did these folks come from? Where were the anxious community residents, who had valid concerns and questions? We learned that these folks were actually bussed in for this meeting!! Toronto Hydro claims they did not arrange it. They must have organized themselves. (I have to say I LOVED the hypocrisy. They were bussed in????? Their website says “Buses are available to pick you up from Kennedy station and take you to the public meeting. They will also return you to Kennedy Station after the meeting.” TTC bus 116 stops outside the door of the school, for goodness sake. The bus comes straight from Kennedy station, no need to change buses. It comes every 10 minutes in the evenings. And they call themselves environmentalists??)

I saw our councillor, Paul Ainslie, join the line up right away, but he ended up nearer the back of the line. It took him until after 10pm, over 2 hours, to get to the microphone. Our local MPP, Margaret Best came as well. She took the vacant seat next to me (after a resident left in disgust, as many residents did). I don’t think she was impressed. There was no way for her to get to a microphone.

Still, I started to be swayed. The environment is extremely important, and we have to do whatever we can to produce clean energy. But that changed a few hours later, when residents and our councillor finally made it to the microphones and made some interesting points:

– One gentleman asked, why is Toronto Hydro pursuing a wind farm project? Toronto is a very populated area with very little place to put such a wind farm, whereas Ontario is huge with lots of room! We could likely place a wind farm onshore, which is cheaper, in places where there is much more wind. Isn’t Ontario Power Generation (formerly Ontario Hydro) the correct group to pursue wind farms? Shouldn’t we be leaving this to them?

– A fellow came to the microphone and explained he worked in the financial industry. He managed a pension fund, and explained that before they ever undertook a large project, they would examine the financial viability to ensure it was profitable. Had Toronto Hydro done so? They said they had not. They would do so AFTER the test results were in. I couldn’t believe it!!

– A couple of people (including Paul Ainslie) questioned Toronto Hydro’s interpretation of the Helimax report (A report for OPG that estimated wind strength and suggested the best place to build them.) Paul commented that the report did not recommend the shore of Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs as an ideal location for building the wind farm. Nine of the recommended sites were within the Toronto Hydro jurisdiction, yet all 9 were ignored. He wanted to know why. I thought Toronto Hydro’s response was a weak one: because those locations weren’t exclusive to Toronto Hydro; others could develop them.

– A few people questioned the waterfront revitalization project. In fact, mayor David Miller was elected on that platform. Doesn’t building an industrial facility, like a wind farm, fly in the face of that? An impassioned woman, who was part of the West Rouge waterfront revitalization project, said she had worked for years with the group responsible for cleaning up their shoreline, putting in pathways so that the lake could be enjoyed by all. They completed it recently, and now fear it will be turned into an industrialized site.

– I was moved by the comments an oriental woman, who moved to Guildwood last summer. She explained that she came to Canada 21 years ago. The first place they brought her to was to Guildwood, to see the view of the lake. (She told us that we didn’t realize how popular this area was with Oriental visitors. ) She was determined, she said, to have a home in Guildwood. She worked for 21 years before she could afford it. Having been born in Canada, we don’t realize what we have here. She compared Canada to China, where there are so many people, there is no way one could have such an unspoiled view. She told us we would be losing something precious.

– One of our residents expressed a concern over the Guild Inn property. This phenomenal piece of property, with its important history, has been left in a state of decay while the City of Toronto decides what to do with it. The community has followed this project over the years, and we’ve been disappointed repeatedly as various plans fall through. Most recently, the city has been working with Centennial College to build their Cultural and Heritage institute, a restaurant, a boutique room hotel and a conference center. The resident expressed concern that Centennial may pull out given that the view of the lake, a draw for visitors of the hotel, may be so radically changed.

I left the meeting feeling, again, that the bluffs are the wrong place to build a windfarm. But it’s probably best to let Toronto Hydro build their anemometer and test the wind speed. Perhaps then they’d actually do an economic feasibility study as well, and determine whether or not it’s viable.

Reid made an excellent point when I got home: we should have an artist rendition of what a view from the bluffs would like like with a wind farm there. Given that they are 2 km out from shore, perhaps they would be tiny? I left him doing calculations to try and figure it out, but I don’t think he was confident in his figures. So, to anyone out there – how large would a wind turbine that’s 30 metres high look from a distance of 2 km, viewed from 50 to 60 metres high?