The War of Winds

Lego_Wind_Farm
Miniland Wind Farm, Legoland, Windsor, England

By Heidi Loney

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change green-lighted two new energy sources in South Eastern Ontario. The first is a 900 MW new gas-fuelled electricity generating station near Bath, Ontario (just south of Napanee). The second is a 27-turbine wind farm just a short ferry ride across Adolphus Reach and destined for the south side of Prince Edward County. With climate change effects on our environment and the health of the planet, it appears reasonable that the County would broadly accept renewable energy alternatives as part of Ontario’s new energy strategy. But they don’t.

Ontario's Energy Mix at a Glance
Source: Wikipedia

Currently in the Province of Ontario, power comes from three main sources: fossil fuels (mostly gas), nuclear, and hydroelectric while renewable energy and biomass account for a small percentage of our energy mix (less than 4%).

Just last month, the Calgary based TransCanada – the corporation behind the Keystone XL Pipeline Project – broke ground at the future site of the Napanee Generating Station (NGS). At a time when we’re trying to move away from fossil fuels after closing all of the coal plants, the Ontario government relocated the gas plant from its original slated home in Oakville after a surprising about-face and political maneuvering from the former McGuinty government. The unrecoverable costs from the gas plant cancellation were almost half a billion dollars.

Oakville’s loss is Napanee’s gain, according to residents, because gas plants bring jobs to rural communities. Their mayor, Gord Schermerhorn, stated long before the ground breaking began that, “It’s 600 construction jobs, 25 permanent jobs, and millions of dollars spent in the construction. It’s going to be the most up-to-date plant that could possibly be. We’re very happy about that.”

According to Susan Holtz, a former private consultant on energy and environmental policy, she states, “The Napanee gas turbine plant is intended to meet the grid’s need for more peaking capacity. Typically, gas turbines are never used for anything except peaking because they cost a lot to operate. All electricity grids require peaking capacity, because electricity demand is not constant; it fluctuates on a minute-by-minute, daily, and seasonal basis, and that varying demand must be continuously met. Base load plants can’t be quickly turned up and down are generally expensive to build but, once built, are relatively cheap to run. That means there have to be plants whose output can be immediately turned up and down. There are different facilities to do this, but among the most used are gas turbine plants, like the Napanee one.”

Mayor Schermerhorn, a former milk farmer and current business man, has served as mayor since 2003. He tells me in a phone interview that he welcomed the Napanee project to his region and hopes that the current Lennox plant doesn’t close any time soon. The Lennox plant, he says, supports the community not only with jobs but by sponsoring local events and sporting teams.

Napanee Generating Station
Artist Illustration of Napanee Generating Station

While he can’t comment on the particulars on the Oakville plant, he believes the Oakville site was too close to a residential community, while the Napanee Generating Station is located on OPG land next to the current Lennox Generating Station and a good deal south from residents. A liaison committee, he tells me, meet regularly with TransCanada to determine the look of the facility and surrounding landscaping techniques including the use of berms on the north side of the facility to soften noise.

Mayor Schermerhorn is not against renewable energy per se, from what I can tell in our conversation, and might not like the look of those towering windmills, but he does have some reservations about solar farms. His greatest concern is that some of these fly-by-night solar companies that use prime agricultural land get passed on from company to company and might eventually go belly up, thereby abandoning the solar plant site and leaving the community stuck with no cheap or easy way of decommissioning the site themselves.

Schermerhorn said at a Napanee town council meeting back in 2009, “I am not against development in the town. I do not like the idea of a solar farm on prime agricultural land.” He added, “If I had a home there, I don’t know if I would want to be looking at a field of solar panels.”

In Ontario, protections are already in place for prime agricultural areas and Specialty Crop Areas. Under the Green Energy Act in Ontario and the Ministry of Agriculture, non-rooftop solar projects greater than 10 kilowatts may be ineligible for a renewable energy generation contract if they are proposed to be located on prime agricultural lands. And farmers can expect to receive $400 to $1200 per acre per year from solar developments on sub-par land.

SkyPower Corp. in Toronto, the company that was behind the solar park, “had completed studies and developed plans on how to curtail the possible reflective glare from the panels, and how they will attempt to block the structures themselves from public view by the use of berms and trees.” Source: Napanee Guide

The 8.5 MW solar park, named Little Creek Solar Facility for its location on the south side of Little Creek Road, sits in the County of Lennox and Addington. In 2014, and as Schermerhorn had feared, Canadian Solar Inc. sold Little Creek Solar Facility to Calgary based BluEarth Renewables Inc.

According to a press release, BluEarth is no fly-by-night renewable energy operation. “Both the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (Teachers’) and ARC Financial (ARC), BluEarth’s major shareholders, committed to an additional equity investment in BluEarth, along with management and other investors. BMO Capital Markets acted as strategic advisor to the company.”

While the mayor and residents approve of the Napanee Generating Station, the project isn’t without some opposition. Randy Hillier, PC MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington finds fault with the gas plant. He said back in 2012, “So we’re spending in the order of $1.5 billion, about $1,000 per man woman and child in the province, to build another plant, beside a plant that idles, and will produce half as much as the existing plant will produce. We know that the demand for electricity is not in Napanee or Kingston.”

His statement was clearly for political reasons, given that he said it right before the provincial election and a more than a year before the Liberals, under Kathleen Wynne, earned a majority.

Lennox Power Station
Lennox Generating Station

But what he says makes sense, given this. As of 2007, 40 year old Lennox operates at a fraction of the capacity, sometimes as low as 1.5% at a cost of 7 million per month. That’s hardly efficient or economical. To add further to this, the payments for the Napanee Generating Station are greater than the Lennox station, which gets a minimum of $15,200 a month for each MW despite output. Napanee is projected to run between 11% to 67% per cent capacity and get a minimum $15,200 a month per megawatt, regardless of output.

The Napanee station is half the size of Lennox and will consist of 2 271 MW gas turbine/generator sets and a 457 MW steam turbine/generator set. Lennox Generating Station consists of 4 – 535 MW units 2 smokestacks – each 650 feet (200 m) tall. The plant burns both residual fuel oil (RFO), a type of dirty oil and natural gas but operates solely at times of peak load; the base load for the Ottawa-Toronto region is supplied by Pickering and Darlington nuclear power stations.

Lennox’s two smoke stacks that spew out flue gas – a combination of CO2 and water vapour – are double the height of the Prince Edward County wind turbines. Lennox facility emissions for 2012 were 180,585 tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent of an average car driven 801 years non-stop!

Holtz says that the two plants are “are not at all the same thing, and shouldn’t be compared.”  Holtz states that, “If the Lennox facility, designed, I assume, for base load and shoulder load (and certainly not for peaking) isn’t being used much, primarily due, in the decades as and after it was commissioned, to the push for Ontario to develop a major nuclear base load fleet, well, that reflects the past.”

According to a Toronto Star article, Jan Carr, former chief executive of the Ontario Power Authority stated, “It’s really the wrong plant in the wrong location. Always has been.”

Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy stated, “We know we have an excess of supply of power in eastern Ontario, and where there is a greater demand for power is in the densely populated GTA region. And we also know that to attain the greatest efficiencies and the greatest practicalities in the generation of power is to generate it as close to the demand as you can.”

And yet, Ontario Power Generation has signed a contract with the power authority this year to keep it running through 2022, allowing OPG to recover its costs and earn a “reasonable return”.

***

In the island community of Prince Edward County, with a population just over 25,000 and rich in history and archeological significance, a small group of county folk are reluctant to embrace any great change to their landscape. Many of the people in the County have lived there for generations and it’s understandable that some of them would resist changes to their lifestyle.

What was mostly agricultural with over 500 kilometres (310 mi) of shoreline and good limestone soil, in recent years much of the farmland has been turned into vineyards, bringing in wealthy retirees and city dwellers looking for a nearby weekend escape. And unlike the mayor of Napanee who sees jobs, Robert Quaiff, the Mayor of Prince Edward County, doesn’t. In a letter to the Minister of Energy and the Premier, Quaiff pens a rather melodramatic memo on behalf of his anti-wind constituents, declaring Prince Edward County an “unwilling host”.

Currently, Canada has 90 anti-wind groups, with 79 of those in Ontario and the epi-centre of Canada’s anti-wind movement. Don Ross, a member of the County Sustainability Group and a long time Prince Edward County resident and renewable energy supporter, tells me that he sees the wind opponents as being in the minority and perceives Mayor Quaiff catering to the wind opponents’ proclivities. He says that before the Green Energy Act, the former Prince Edward County mayor and members of the town council, which included then Councillor Robert Quaiff, voted in favour of wind farms in a 10 to 5 vote.

Don Ross wrote this letter-to-the-editor in response to the Mayor Quaiff. The County Weekly News printed it in their Thursday, August 27th edition.

Oracle Opinion Poll 2012
Oracle Opinion Poll Figures

According to opinion polls, opposition to wind appears to be isolated. While slightly outdated, Oraclepoll Research Limited conducted an opinion poll of 1000 Ontarians back in early 2012. CANwea (Canadian Wind Energy Association) commissioned the poll which revealed that 78% of Ontarians agreed with the statement:

Wind energy is one of the safest forms of electricity generation compared to other sources (such as nuclear and coal).

The survey also revealed that residents of Central and Northern Ontario, the working class (with incomes $35,000 – $75,000) and those aged 55 or older are the least likely to support renewable energy.

Why might this be? According to the same survey, the pollsters asked respondents what they felt was Oracle Opinion Poll 2012 - 2the most important issue facing Ontario at this time. The top answer, not surprisingly, was jobs, and therein lies the rub. Jobs. Environmental concerns are low on respondents’ radar except for a small percentage that are concerned about utility prices. As Ross mentions, people just want to flick a switch and have cheap power without questioning where it all comes from or its environmental impact.

In a local poll, a QuinteNews on-line survey asked County residents the following question:

Do you believe the provincial Ministry of Environment was right to approve the White Pines wind farm in Prince Edward County?

Out of over a thousand respondents, 80% agreed with the following statement:

No one likes change, but we have to stop killing people by creating energy from sources that pollute the environment.

Windmills Europe (2)
Wind turbine count by European Country

A representative from wpd Canada tells me that what is happening in Ontario is unique. In European countries such as Denmark and Germany, renewable energy is at a high acceptance rate. As of 2010, individuals or farmers in Germany owned over 50% of renewable-energy capacity; the Big Four energy companies owned just 6.5%. And while the initial costs are high, 5 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour surcharge to finance the feed-in-tariffs (FIT), the previous Minister of the Environment, Norbert Röttgen, had pointed out back in 2011 that, “When more people consume oil and coal, the price will go up, but when more people consume renewable energy, the price of it will go down.” Source: Yale e360

And while Ontario is abandoning coal in favour of renewables, Canadians question why Germany abandons nuclear power while continuing to burn coal. The reasons are somewhat complex and as North Americans something that’s difficult to comprehend.

The nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine 1986 and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster solidified Germany’s fear of all things nuclear. Before 2011, Germany derived a quarter of their energy from nuclear, but after the current government shutdown 8 out of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors after the Fukushima incident, nuclear provided Germany with only 17% of its power. Source: World Nuclear

Windmills Canada
Wind Farm locations in Canada

More recently, Germany’s electricity mix had a 27 percent renewable share in the first quarter of 2014. Source: Bloomberg Through a program called Energiewende or energy transition, Germany’s government vowed to wean itself off nuclear power over the next ten years and replace it with green energy, meeting its goal of a 40% cut in greenhouse gases (from 1990 levels) by 2020.

Windmills Germany
VS Wind Farm Locations in Germany

Germany has the most aggressive green energy policy in the world with a goal of ensuring renewables contribute to 80% of Germany’s energy supply by 2050 with wind power – both offshore and on, contributing half of that. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, had said back in 2012 in Berlin meeting with Germany’s state premiers that, “The energy switch is a Herculean task which we are all committed to. We have a lot of work ahead of us but we agreed to work together.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s total wind power production currently stands at about 8.5 GW, but all of that is from land-based wind farms. Unlike Germany, there are no offshore wind projects operating or under construction yet in Canada or the United States despite their great potential. The Ontario government abruptly put the brakes on promising offshore wind projects being developed in Lake Ontario several years ago prior to an election. Britain is the current top dog in off-shore wind with half of the world’s capacity. Source: The Globe and Mail

The firm behind the White Pines Project in Prince Edward County, German based wpd Canada, is one of 42 pre-qualified developers to participate in the first phase of the newly minted Large Renewal Procurement. The LRP replaces FIT (feed-in-tariff) for large projects after that program was cancelled in May of 2013.

White Pines Wind Turbine Map
White Pines Project Wind Turbine Map and Legend
Wind Turbine PEC
Wind Turbine proposed for Prince Edward County 2.05 MW MM92

The Class 4 wind facility that is White Pines Wind Project and with a nameplate capacity of 59.45 megawatts (MW), will feed an estimated 169,464,000 kWh annually into Hydro One Networks Inc.’s distribution system, equivalent to the average annual power use of 9,683 homes. Source: wpd Canada

According to an article by Susan Holtz, she writes, “Preventing the intrusion of large-scale wind turbines into a local viewscape is rarely put forward as the central reason for opposing such a facility, presumably because it is seen as too subjective to be a powerful argument. Nevertheless, wind proponents often regard this as the actual reason for local wind opposition, especially if opponents use birds or health as arguments against wind in spite of never previously having shown a special interest in birds or in the huge health consequences of burning fossil fuels.”

Holtz is also a member of the County Sustainability Group. She tells me in a phone interview from her home in Prince Edward County that the big oil and gas lobby targeted renewable energy, namely wind “since it’s the cheapest and the most available”. She says it’s no accident that the anti-wind movement through marketing created the term ‘industrial wind turbine’ because it implies a menacing threat.

She states, “In the US and some other places, such as Australia, there has been for some time a mostly right-wing, very well-financed, anti-wind lobby, some parts of which are also linked to or originate from corporations, think tanks, and wealthy individuals who are climate change deniers.” She adds, “Any concerns raised by the mandated public consultation events or by personally motivated neighbours about the proposed project can be fed and enhanced by negative material from well-organized groups in other parts of Ontario or worldwide.”

And it’s big money pulling the strings in Washington. According to a Huff Post piece by Elliot Negin, Senior Writer at Union of Concerned Scientists, he writes that the Koch brothers ” — the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas Koch Industries conglomerate — have enlisted their extensive network of think tanks, advocacy groups and friends on Capitol Hill to spearhead a campaign to pull the plug on the PTC [Production Tax Credit].” According to Negin, the PTC “subsidy helps level the playing field between wind and fossil fuels…helping to make wind one of the fastest growing electricity sources in the country.”

It’s rich that the Koch brothers are attempting to kibosh wind subsidies in the US considering that the American oil and gas industry has received $4.86 billion US (by today’s dollars) in tax breaks and subsidies every year since 1918, while renewable technologies averaged $370 million US per year from 1999 to 2006.

While that might paint the bigger picture State side, back in Prince Edward County, it’s some of the residents nearest the proposed projects that hate the way the wind turbines might blemish the landscape that are the most vehemently opposed to renewables. Human health and politics are merely runner-ups to this opposition.

Unlike solar power, area farmers can lease prime agricultural land for wind turbine use. Since wind occupies only a small fraction of the land (turbines and roads use 1 to 1.5% of a typical 40 hectare farm parcel), farming or grazing may continue undisturbed. Source: Environmental Registry

As Holtz tells me, the family farmers in the County have the most to lose if their contracts are withdrawn.

According to Energy and Policy Institute, in Ontario alone and using both health claims and disruption to local wildlife habitat, there are currently 14 Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) decisions and two higher court cases (out of 17 in the country). Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie’s firm represents wind opponents in at least ten of those cases, including the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PCFN) for Ostrander Point. Gillespie is somewhat of a known entity in the tribunal world after Madam Justice S.E. Healey gave him a metaphorical slap on the wrist when he used her own words out of context to the media. She awarded the defendants in the Clearview Township lawsuit, wpd Canada and a family farm business, $110,000 in court costs.

In April, the Ontario Court of Appeal revoked the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) for an on-shore wind power project by Gilead Power Corporation. The crown land at Ostrander Point is sited for the project in the south part of the County. According to Holtz, the land is hardly pristine or suitable for agriculture purposes since it was used just after World War II as a bombing range.

The Gilead case marks the first appeal that the top court revoked their REA, overturning the previous decision by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) in favour of The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PCFN) and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC).

Windturbine_decibels
Click image to hear a wind turbine.

It is important to distinguish that the court based their decision solely on the survival of a rare and endangered species, the Blanding’s Turtle. According to the Globe and Mail, “the risk is posed not by the wind farm itself but by 5.4 kilometres of roads to and from the site”. Meanwhile, the eleven victim impact statements, and so-called “expert” testimony on behalf of the appellant, the Environmental Review Tribunal dismissed the alleged impacts to human health and to other animal and plant species.

Not merely an open and shut case, Gilead has one more opportunity to offer an appropriate remedy and amend their proposal when they appear at the ERT hearings beginning September 2nd.

Don Ross tells me, “It was the ERT that initially rescinded the Director’s (MOECC) approval of the project based on a presentation that the Blanding’s Turtle would suffer irreversible harm from the project. Gilead appealed the decision and the appeal court judge ruled the ERT had erred legally as Gilead were not allowed to offer a mitigation strategy and that under these circumstances they could have extended the time frame of the ERT. The appeal court did issue a stay against Gilead proceeding until the Superior court heard an appeal from the ‘Field Naturalists’.”

According to Holtz, “This issue can be easily resolved.” She states that the “Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR — they are the Ostrander Point Crown land managers) [through] their policy, broadly speaking, was to promote public access to MNR lands, having had attention drawn to this supposed conflict, is quite happy to limit public access to these roads with gates.”

But why even build wind farms in the first place when Ontario already have a surplus of power, sometimes selling our excess power to the States? You can blame nuclear for that. According to a Toronto Star editorial piece, “According to the IESO [Independent Electricity System Operator], a reactor ‘must remain offline for between 48 and 96 hours following a shutdown, depending on the unit,'” making it cheaper to sell our power glut to the US rather than power down one of our reactors. ” By contrast, a wind turbine can be turned out of the wind in seconds and a gas plant can similarly respond on a dime to market signals.”

At 3,524 MW, Darlington supplies Ontario with 20% of its power and at a peak in 2008 peak, operated at 94.5% capacity. Beginning in 2016, if their license to operate is renewed after hearings this fall, the Darlington Plant will begin an outage execution and mid-life overhaul of four aging reactors to the tune of $12.9 billion and counting, with an expected completion date of 2025. Meaning, in the next 11 years, Darlington will produce 25% less power than before.

Back in 2013, the provincial government scrapped two new reactors set for the Darlington site. In a statement, Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Energy for the province of Ontario said that, “There is a strong consensus that now is not the right time to build new nuclear, and refurbishment is where we should be going.”

Meanwhile, the 40 year old Pickering Nuclear Power Plant which produces 3100 MW of power, is scheduled to stop generating electricity in 2018 and several decades before the decommissioning is complete in 2058. That means that renewables will have to make up the difference and Ontario has committed to putting 20,000 MW of renewable energy online by 2025.

But before that, wpd Canada will have their day at the Tribunal. Last month, after a 60 day public consultation that consisted of 155 emailed and hand written comments (both for and against the projecy), wpd Canada received their REA less two turbines from MOECC.

But as expected, the wind opponents filed an appeal at the end of July and MOECC loaded the third party hearing to the Environmental Registry. There is no date set for the hearing. In the meantime, the Napanee Generating Station, which unlike renewables requires no special approval, appears to be full steam ahead. But both the White Pines Wind Project and the Ostrander Point Wind Project are tied up in an endless spool of red tape.

Updated: August 28, 2015.