The Lake Ontario Log newsletter

Wind Power

As those folks who travel with boats upon the Great Lakes are well aware, wind energy can be a formidable force upon wide waters. We who sail here have been moving things around using wind power for many years. Now a group of Toronto wind watchers are setting up a demonstration project to bring Lake Ontario wind power into the home. They plan to provide electric power to as many as a thousand city residents by installing three large wind turbines along the Toronto harbor waterfront. Electric power generation from the wind has come a long way from the days of the energy crisis and the first large wind farms set up in California in the early 1980s when this production method was subsidized. Then costs per kilowatt hour were significantly higher than those of conventional methods. But today's modern wind turbines produce power at a cost of 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour, comparable with that from coal operated plants. And they do it with no radioactive waste, no acids, or green house gas emissions. .
In 1998 577 MW of potential wind power went on line in the U.S. a bit more than the generating capacity of the Ginna nuclear plant at Smoky Point in Ontario. But the potential for wind power locally and across the nation is far higher. Up to 20% of our national needs could be met by wind power at competitive prices today and as the technology of turbines continues to improve and prices continue to drop, they could supply even more of the mix. Denmark, the world's leader in wind energy technology has a goal of producing half its power from wind within 20 years. World wide last year over 6600 MW of wind power were on line and hundreds more turbines were being installed especially in Germany and Spain.

Wind turbine siting is critical to efficient cost competitive power production, and the shore of Lake Ontario according to the Toronto group is especially well suited for producing wind power. Wherever the terrain is "rough", cluttered with trees, buildings, and other structures, the efficiency of a wind turbine drops. Steady winds are also important as consistently gusty puffy conditions can shorten the 25 year working life of the turbines by several years. The winds along the shore in open locations are both steadier and stronger than those even a short distance inland. In Toronto shoreline breezes are 30% stronger than those blowing over the flat low lying land at the International airport a few miles inland. The Toronto Renewable Energy Co-op plans to install three 660 kilowatt turbines. This they say will eliminate up to 1.4 million kg/year of CO2 emissions. They also hope that the use of wind power on the waterfront will help set the tone locally and federally for a positive policy in environmentally friendly energy production. One of the group's members said that there is nothing like an actual working project to convince people of its viability. Your Log writer agrees.

On our cross country trips to California I've seen two large wind farms, one high atop a range of hills in Texas and one in a Mountain pass near Los Angeles. The sight of hundreds of steadily turning wind vanes, automated, computerized and quietly cranking out power with no oversight, no smoke, no huge plume of waste heat and no troublesome radioactive waste is impressive indeed. This use of man's intellectual abilities to improve an 800 year old technology is far more agreeable to me than the vast engineering ingenuity and intensive monitoring that keeps the lakeshore nukes boiling way. As for the visual impact of these towers and turning vanes, I find them far less ugly than that big sickly green box letting loose heaven only knows what into the lake.

If the Toronto plan works out someday we may look down the lakeshore towards Nine Mile Point and see instead of a huge plume of wasted heat rising into the sky, a distant forest of quiet clean wind generators harvesting energy from the lake breeze. That's a vision for the future of the lake we could live with.

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