Toronto Hydro Windfarms off Scarbourough Bluffs (Part 2)

View of the lake

I find I have to rant about Toronto Hydro’s proposed windfarm off the Toronto Bluffs again. There was another meeting in Janurary, held for residents only, which brought some interesting things to light for me. Some residents were grasping at straws, making all sorts of wild, negative claims about windmills. Unfortunately, these claims will label the residents NIMBYs (and in some cases, idiots). But I did hear some things from Toronto Hydro that raises what I believe are valid concerns.

Everyone’s jumping on the renewable energy bandwagon. No one in their right mind would say that we shouldn’t increase the percentage of energy we get from renewables. The government has made lots of money available for such projects. What it doesn’t mean is that we should throw money at every project that comes along without making sure it makes sense.

The Ontario Power Authority commissioned a company called Helimax to provide a “technical assessment and ranking of 64 offshore sites (totalling nearly 35 000 MW) in the Ontario’s Great Lakes offshore region which are considered to have favourable potential for wind project development.” The full report can be found here.
This is how Helimax describes itself “…a leader in the field of independent wind energy consulting, excels in its particular use of engineering, meteorology and environmental science for utility-scale wind energy project development.”

If you read the Helimax report, there are a few things that stand out. They do not claim that their report is exhaustive: “This report by no means seeks to disparage any sites currently under development which are not part of the 64 sites selected. There are wind power projects that can be feasibly developed beyond the sites that are identified in the present study.” But there are other things in this report that should be considered.

Helimax did not bother looking at any sites where the wind speed is less than 8.0 m/s. They used the Ontario Wind Resource Atlas as a source of wind speed. (If you visit the web page, uncheck checkbox “water” to get offshore details. Note that magl=metres above ground level.) The last page of the Helimax report shows wind speed on their final page, and it’s a little easier to read. Looks like the Bluffs area, 2-4 km off shore is estimated at 6.5 – 7.0 m/s. Well below their cutoff of 8.0 m/s. What I get from this is that Helimax does not consider areas with wind speeds of less than 8.0 m/s to be financially viable.

Helimax states that it’s difficult to quantify things such as social acceptability, and they could not consider it in the report. Yet, they did to a degree. Page 6: “Social acceptability is a significant source of uncertainty, and development of some promising areas might face local opposition due to concerns about effects of turbines on personal enjoyment and recreation (e.g. viewscapes, aesthetic issues and noise), concerns about property values and effects on avifauna.” And page 9: “Wind farm development involves many environmental and social issues that are extremely subjective and varied. These issues range from local opposition to wind development on the grounds of visual impact or impact on flora and fauna to communities endorsing local projects for financial or environmental reasons. In an attempt to implicitly address this issue, population density and distance to shore are used as a quantitative indicator. Generally, social issues tend to diminish when fewer people live in the vicinity of a project. As a result, all other factors being equal, a site with a low population density would generally be more attractive to a potential developer.” Well said. There is a definite social aspect to locating the windfarm off a densely populated area as the bluffs.

A final remark about the Helimax report: the 64 sites provided were ranked, IN ORDER. The Scarborough Bluffs did not make the list.

Still, the Helimax report was based on the estimates given by Ontario Wind Resource Atlas, and not on actual measured wind speed, which they stress as follows: “It should be noted, however, that on-site meteorological measurements are required to perform a truly judicious assessment of the local wind resource and ensuing energy yields of a given site.” And so, I don’t really have any objections to the proposed anemometer being built to measure the actual wind speed. Who knows, perhaps the bluffs do something strange to the wind and the atlas is off in that area. But here’s my problem: in the January meeting, Toronto Hydro says they will not publish the wind speed data they gather.

The Toronto Hydro corporation, owned by the City of Toronto, has two arms: the Toronto Hydro Electric System (which is the rate based portion) and the Toronto Hydro Energy Systems (which is building the windfarm). THES competes with other energy services companies. They said, in the January meeting, that this is why they can’t publish the wind speed data they gather. I can understand their viewpoint, but I have a serious problem with this. They admitted (and I was the one who asked the question) that a large majority of the funding will come from public monies. How can we verify that our taxpayer money is being spent wisely, if we don’t even know what the measured wind speeds are? Will we end up with another “dud”, like the windmill at the Ex?

What makes me quite angry is this: This province is huge. We have lots of places to build windmills, where the wind speeds are higher. We’re looking at an offshore site which will cost us 30-70% more than onshore (pg. 20 of the Helimax report). And they’re not even going to publish their findings? Unbelievable.

This is a long post, as far as my posts go, but I’m not quite finished!

A few words about the environmental assessment. I was concerned about the monarch butterfly migration, and so approached our friend Peter Kotanen, who pointed out the bigger concern with bird migrations. He said he was concerned about a wall of windmills placed in the migration path just before they make landfall. I admit I hadn’t thought of that. He challenges the statistics sited by Toronto Hydro that “average is < 2 bird kills per year per turbine". These figures were NOT gathered in a migratory path just before making landfall. My earlier post doesn't mention this concern because Toronto Hydro said a full environment assessment would be done. It seems to me that such concerns should be addressed there. But now I'm not so sure. I keep hearing about Bill 150 - I've heard claims that the bill will help push through windmill projects despite environmental concerns -- that environmental assessments aren't required. Finally, I have to complain about the aesthetics. I realize this is subjective, but it's a big deal to those of us who live near the bluffs. The view of the lake from the top of the bluffs is stunning. I've lived near lake Ontario all my life - I used to swim in it when I lived near St. Catharines. I drive around it every time I go back home to visit my parents. I've admired it from Kingston and Wolfe Island where my mother-in-law lives. But look at it from atop the bluffs at 50 to 60m high, and it changes somehow. Much more lovely. While I find windmills to be beautiful and majestic - I can't imagine rows of them in the lake from east to west as far as the eye can see. It destroys something that I find to be precious. Reid and I have been calculating how large they will seem when we look at them from edge of the lake. We calculated that they'll be 3-4 degrees high, which translates to 3 or 4 fingers wide, if you stand at the bluffs and hold out your hand out at arms length. For me, this is totally unacceptable.