By JACK KOHANE
“Every 100 megawatts (MW) of new installed wind energy capacity in Canada represents $250 million in investment, over 100 construction jobs, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual payments to landowners and a similar amount for municipal governments,” touted Robert Hornung, President of the Ottawa-based Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), to the delegates of the Hwy H2O Conference held last November in Toronto.
In his presentation at the 7th annual conference, Hornung sung the praises of wind power. He informed the audience that in 2011, Canada set a record for new wind energy installations of 1,400 MW – the old record was 950 MW. There were 23 new wind farms constructed in nine provinces last year, representing $3.5 billion in investment and 13,500 person-years of employment. Canada ended 2011 with about 5,400 MW of total installed wind energy capacity – enough to light up 1.5 million Canadian homes, but only about 3.5 per cent of total installed electricity generating capacity.
Ontario’s electricity system has an installed capacity of some 35,000 MW of power. Of this capacity, 1,850 MW is represented by wind power generated by more than 1,000 turbines. Although wind power represents some 5 per cent of Ontario’s installed capacity, it actually accounts for 2.6 per cent of total power generated. The discrepancy between installed capacity and actual power generated is explained by the intermittent character of available wind strength. More than 3,500 MW of additional wind power capacity has been contracted for, which, once installed, will enable Ontario to power almost 1.5 million homes through wind-generated energy.
Global wind power installations increased by 35.8 gigawatts (GW=1,000 MW) in 2010, according to figures released by the Global Wind Energy Council. This brings total installed global wind energy capacity up to 194.4 GW, a 22.5 per cent increase on the 158.7 GW installed at the end of 2009. New capacity added in 2010 represents investments worth US$65 billion.
“Canada has one of the world’s best wind resources and massive untapped wind energy potential,” crowed Hornung. CanWEA’s WindVision 2025 report calls for Canada to secure 20 per cent of its electricity from wind energy by 2025. “We remain on track to meet this objective,” he continued. “The objective is ambitious – but achievable.” Arguing that wind is part of the energy solution, he emphasized that “Canada’s electricity system is at a crossroads…demand is rising and many power plants are approaching retirement…we have to look at cleaner ways to generate electricity.”
In Ontario, the province’s “Open Ontario Plan” aims to create clean energy jobs while improving air quality by phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2014. At the end of 2011, the province’s Ministry of the Environment had issued 57 approvals for land-based wind turbine projects in Ontario, of which 38 wind farms are in operation and 19 are being developed.
“The Ministry’s priority is to develop clean renewable energy in a way that is protective of public health and the environment,” says Ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson. “We are moving away from coal, which has proven health impacts and encouraging renewable energy projects including wind farms.”
That priority doesn’t extend to offshore wind farms, on which Ontario imposed a moratorium last year. Ontario’s then Environment Minister, John Wilkinson, wanted more research to be carried out, including studying the potential effects of offshore wind power development on natural coastal processes (e.g., currents and sediment flow), and assessing the potential electromagnetic impacts of underwater high voltage cables on local fisheries in Lake Ontario. In response, CanWEA expressed its disappointment with the Ontario government’s offshore flip-flop. “This is an unfortunate decision that surrenders the province’s leadership role in exploring the potential for offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes and creates significant uncertainty for investors,” said Hornung in a statement. “We ultimately believe there is great potential for offshore wind energy to provide clean energy and new jobs in Ontario,” concluded Hornung. “We are encouraged, however, to see the government’s continued commitment to its Long-Term Energy Plan, which includes significant growth in wind energy production in Ontario.”
By contrast, NaiKun Wind Energy Group Inc., a British Columbia-based renewable energy company, is pressing ahead with Canada’s first offshore wind energy farm. To be located in Hecate Strait, between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert on B.C.’s northwest coast, where the wind resource is among the world’s strongest, the project proposes up to 110 turbines, providing electricity to 130,000 B.C. homes and displacing 450,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Construction on the NaiKun project could begin within two years of the award of an electricity purchase agreement.
In an effort to reverse Ontario’s position on offshore wind power, a number of employers in the Hamilton, Niagara and Kingston areas recently joined forces to create the Lake Ontario Offshore Network (LOON). Randi Rahamim, LOON’s spokesperson in Toronto, says the consortium encourages the provincial government to remove the roadblocks to allow a pilot offshore project off of Wolfe Island to proceed. According to Rahamim, this pilot project would bring 1,900 construction jobs and 175 permanent jobs to Ontario. Although engineering work on the project has been suspended, environmental assessments are ongoing on the proposed 300MW Wolfe Island Shoals project on Lake Ontario.
Spurred by Ontario’s offshore wind power moratorium, Wind Concerns Ontario wants the province to take similar action for land-based wind farms. “There are health effects from industrial wind turbines due to the noise and vibration they produce,” states Jane Wilson, the organization’s president. Founded in 2008, Wind Concerns Ontario describes itself as an umbrella coalition of grassroots citizen’s groups across Ontario. According to Wilson, who is a registered nurse, the documented reports of adverse health effects from industrial wind turbines are increasing. “People in Ontario are experiencing sleep deprivation and health problems they didn’t have before turbines near them started operation,” she contends. “Ignoring the health issues is unconscionable and indefensible.”
Wind Concerns Ontario proposes a two-kilometre distance between industrial wind turbines from residences, hospitals, and schools. Wilson adds that “The crux of our opposition … is that not enough is known about safe distances for installing these machines, particularly in multiples; we do know that the setback on land of 550 metres is not founded on health science. It has more to do with the geography of Ontario to allow for a maximum number of industrial wind turbines to be constructed.”
To bolster her argument, she also cites that the government of Denmark, long the poster child for industrial-scale wind power, has proposed more stringent noise regulations. In response, Vestas Wind Systems, Denmark’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines, has stated that while it will cooperate in meeting the proposed new standards, it will be difficult to comply due to the characteristics of the turbines.
What’s more, recent news out of Europe bolsters the anti-wind power forces. Last year, Denmark’s giant state-owned power company, Dong Energy, announced it would abandon future onshore wind farms in the country. “Every time we were building onshore, the public reacts in a negative way and we had a lot of criticism from neighbours … now we are putting all our efforts into offshore wind farms,” a spokesman for the company was quoted as saying in a U.K. newspaper.
Ontario has funded a research project into renewable energy technologies, wind among them, but the actual research has not yet begun even after 18 months, and the results are not expected for years. “By that time, the majority of onshore wind turbines planned for Ontario will already be built,” counters Wilson. “Wind power is the ‘flavour of the month’ in terms of power generation. We need to investigate alternative, made-in-Canada solutions for renewable energy.”
Far from a whim du jour, the principle propelling wind energy has been around since humans put sails into the wind. Today’s wind turbines generally consist of large blades mounted on tall towers attached to a horizontal shaft. As the wind blows, these blades cause the shaft to turn. The shaft is attached to a generator located inside the head, or “nacelle” of the turbine, which generates electricity. Cables carry this electrical current to transmission lines that then carry it to homes and businesses.
CanWea’s response to the health concerns, as stated on its website, are as follows: “The balance of scientific and medical evidence concludes that sound from wind turbines is not unique and that wind turbines do not have a direct impact on human health. There are well over 100,000 turbines operating worldwide and hundreds of thousands of people are living and working near and around them, the overwhelming majority of whom have productive and positive experiences.”
Globally, policy targets for implementation of alternative energy projects exist in at least 45 countries, including developing countries. The Canadian Renewable Energy Alliance reports that India is a world leader in wind energy and has launched an initiative to bring electricity to 112,000 rural villages in the next decade, partly with renewable energy technologies such as biomass gasifiers. China is a world leader in solar hot water production and recently passed a milestone Renewable Energy Law. Denmark is notable in that it currently meets 20 per cent of its electricity production with wind energy and is planning to increase its use of renewable energy to 50 per cent. Still, renewable energy represents just three per cent of the world’s energy mix.
Structurally, wind turbines have over 8,000 parts, most sourced from global manufacturers in China, India, Spain, and Germany. That brings far-reaching opportunities for transportation and logistics specialists. “Service providers that position themselves to support the wind energy sector can expect to see significant growth in this sector over the next five years,” remarked Hornung in a post-Hwy H2O Conference interview.
Logistec Stevedoring is working to capture a share of this market. The giant Montreal-based cargo handler had its first foray in the handling of wind turbine components in 2001. “Since then, we’ve handled hundreds of components throughout our extensive network of ports in Canada and the United States,” says Curtis Doiron, the company’s National Sales Manager. “We’ve been able to expand our wind cargo handling business, and we want more.”
This kind of sensitive cargo – blades, nacelles, and hubs – must be handled in a safe and efficient manner. Components all require different handling methods and equipment. “Blades and towers in particular occupy a mammoth amount of space,” explains Doiron. “Pre-planning is critical.”
Added to longshoring labour in a port environment, turbine components are discharged to specialized trucks or railcars using equipment such as slings and spreaders, and machinery including large cranes, container handlers, and lift trucks, for delivery to the final construction site. “It’s very impressive to see our cranes lifting a 75-metric-tonne nacelle from a vessel 12 metres away and landing it perfectly in the terminal,” smiles Doiron at the thought.
It’s a “win-wind situation” lauds Dan McCarthy, VP Marketing for the CSL Group Inc., a global provider of marine dry bulk cargo handling and delivery services. He sees the transportation of wind components on vessels within the Great Lakes as a great opportunity. “Wind turbine components are extremely expensive and a great deal of care must be taken to ensure no damage is sustained throughout all stages of the logistics process,” he says from his Montreal office.
McCarthy recalls the delicate 2010 transport of turbines aboard CSL’s Birchglen vessel, shipped from the Port of Gros-Cacouna on Quebec’s South Shore to a wind farm in Bloomington, Illinois. “The project was our first experience, and to our knowledge … the largest movement of components per ship on the Great Lakes.” It was a “carefully choreographed sequence, in which everyone’s role was clearly defined. Not only did we think ahead, we had a ‘Plan B’ for everything,” he nods. “Since then, we’ve seen a higher level of interest in using the marine mode for transport of wind turbine cargoes.”
CanWEA believes Canada’s interest in wind power is fully justified by its favourable economics, in addition to its “green” characteristics. “Having a significant proportion of wind power generation in Canada’s energy mix is the stabilizing effect of wind on long-term electricity prices,” observes Hornung. “Once a wind farm is in operation, the cost of generating power remains unchanged over the life of the project because, in effect, the fuel for operating a turbine – wind – is absolutely free.”
That may well be true, from a producer point of view. However, from a consumer point of view, wind power is among the highest-cost sources of energy, and one needs to wonder how Ontario’s landscape and economy would be impacted if energy derived from wind turbines were to achieve CanWEA’s stated objectives. Not to mention the cost to provincial taxpayers as governments offer to guarantee the purchase of such power at such high prices.
Currently, the wholesale price for wind energy in Ontario is set at 13.5 cents per kWh. This price is currently under review, and is expected to be reduced. Small hydroelectric projects in Ontario receive a price of 3 to 11 cents per kWh, while large hydroelectric projects receive 3.4 cents/kWh. The wholesale price for natural gas-generated electricity is currently 9.5 cents/kWh. The price of electricity generated from existing nuclear facilities is 5 to 7.2 cents/kWh.
Hornung believes strongly that Canada can, and will, make significant additions to its installed wind power base. “Countries like Denmark already get over 20 per cent of their electricity from wind,” says Hornung. As long as the wind continues to blow, there is a great future in wind energy.” But only, we might add, so long as provincial taxpayers are willing to ignore the common rules of supply and demand, and approve of their governments purchasing “green” power at multiples of the cost of alternative sources.