All posts by lp

Sun Worshipper

Sitting with Rita, on the beach
Sitting with Rita, on the beach

I love summer. It’s my favourite season. I’ve loved summer since I was a small child, although now I actually appreciate spring and fall, too. But I hate winter.

Winter means frozen fingers and toes, and mine seem to freeze before everyone else’s does. Perhaps it’s my low blood pressure. After about 10 minutes outside, my fingers start to freeze and my toes go numb. I’m sure that’s contributed to the arthritis I have in my toes now.
But summer… summer means I can wear sandals, and my fingers and toes stay warm. Summer is hot and humid. In summer, I can lay out in the sun and feel wonderfully relaxed as the sunlight caresses my skin.

About 15 years ago, I was driving along in my car listening to the radio, and the most amazing song came on. I was so happy that I was able to catch the song title and the group. It was Summer’s Cauldron, by XTC, which has now become one of my favourite bands. It perfectly captures, in lyrics and music, how it feels when I sit out in the sun.

Drowning here in summer’s cauldron
Under mats of flower lava
Please don’t pull me out this is how I would want to go
Breathing in the boiling butter
Fruit of sweating golden Inca
Please don’t heed my shout I’m relax in the undertow

I seem to have developed a ritual. Each spring, when it gets warm enough, I put Summer’s Cauldron on repeat and listen while laying out on a reclining chair on my back deck. My back deck is completely surrounded by a cedar hedge and decking fence. It seems to get 2-3 degrees warmer there than anywhere else, and the sun beats down all afternoon. It’s my favourite spot to be outside. For the first time this year, I was able to get out there this afternoon and listen to Summer’s Cauldron.

When Miss Moon lays down
And Sir Sun stands up
Me I’m found floating round and round
Like a bug in brandy
In this big bronze cup
Drowning here in summer’s cauldron

When I was a teenager in the 70s, my girlfriend Anny and I would lay out at her house or mine, desperately trying to get tans. Back then, it was cool to have a tan. I used to lie there for hours on end, with no protection. (Yikes!!) Nowadays, I don’t want to be tanned any more, but I still love sitting in the sun. I have to have a hat, or I get a headache, and if I’m out for more than a little while, I use sun block. But I love getting all toasty warm. Love the way my skin smells. Love to get all drowsy and comfortable. Absolutely love it if there’s a slight breeze.

Trees are dancing drunk with nectar
Grass is waving underwater
Please don’t pull me out this is how I would want to go
Insect bomber Buddhist droning
Copper chord of August’s organ
Please don’t heed my shout I’m relax in the undertow

My favourite song, though, is Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles. It’s been my favourite song since I was a little girl, probably because of the uncanny way it would play on the radio just when I needed it most. It would play at the beginning of spring when there was still snow on the ground, but the sun was streaming into my living room from a clear blue sky. It seemed to promise that summer was coming. It would play on the radio after I’d had a fight with my parents and I was miserable. It seemed promise that things would get better soon.

When Miss Moon lays down
in her hilltop bed
And Sir Sun stands up
raise his regal head
Me I’m found floating round and round
Like a bug in brandy
In this big bronze cup
Drowning here in summer’s cauldron

I know Canada probably isn’t the country I should be living in, but I think that experiencing some cold makes me appreciate summer even more. In actual fact, I really like breathing in very cold air (I’m talking -25 degrees Celsius or colder). But that’s the *only* thing I like about winter.

Just a little over one month to go, when I can get out to Allenwood beach on Georgian Bay. Hopefully, we’ll have more than a few sunny hot days. And if it gets too breezy and cold, I’ll go find that little sand dune a few of us sun worshippers know about where it’s about 5 degrees hotter, and try to get my fix.

Taking a break in the shade
Taking a break in the shade

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.

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?