It's still only in the planning stages, a small gust, but already there's a storm being kicked up by NIMBYs against a Toronto Hydro plan to erect wind turbines offshore in Lake Ontario. Will the huffing and puffing end up blowing down the best idea Hydro's had in decades? Ten reasons why we can't afford to let it.
1 Opponents say putting turbines offshore will mess with the view, especially around the Scarborough Bluffs, a World Heritage Site. A little perspective: the project being contemplated is for 60 turbines spread over a 25-kilometre stretch from Ajax to the Leslie Spit. That's roughly two turbines every kilometre or half-mile, 2 kilometres offshore (roughly the distance between Bloor and St. Clair). Hardly a visual distraction. Do Scarberians prefer the smog from coal-fired dinosaurs coming off the lake?
2 The future is wind. It's the fastest-growing electricity source in the world, growing on average 25 per cent annually. And the longer we wait to embrace that idea, the faster the future is passing us by. Toronto is being left in the dust by the renewable power revolution taking place across the planet. The total extent of our own effort? A solitary tower at the CNE. Hard to believe it was the first in North America.
3 The job spinoffs are too huge to blow. The Great Lakes pack a punch when it comes to wind potential, enough to power millions of homes, according to one consultant's report prepared for the Ontario Power Authority earlier this year. But most of the offshore projects floated so far have been too small to induce turbine manufacturers to set up shop on our shores. Toronto could become a global leader just by signalling its intention to think big. In Europe, the industry employs 80,000 people, generating more than $28 billion in annual revenues, approximately a quarter the size of the auto industry in Canada.
4 The waterfront proposals, 22 precincts stretching thousands of hectares from one end of the city to the other, will create a tremendous new need for more power, all of which can't be accommodated by the existing grid, a point emphasized by the Toronto Sustainable Energy Plan. Wind is a perfect fit, ecologically and economically, because it can be stored and used when demand is greatest.
5 More than ever, Toronto needs to press the issue of wind power and take the initiative, not just wait for handouts from on high. Imagine lakeshore brownfields converted into centres for wind industry. Chicago did it, starting in the late 90s, only with solar. Paints a far more exciting picture than the rusting fossil-fuel-spewing hulks pumping power on the shoreline now.
6 Offshore farms do not pose a threat to migrating birds (most fly along the shore, not across the lake) or underwater fish habitat. The Danish government conducted an eight-year study on the effects of its two largest offshore wind farms on wildlife and - surprise! - found that undersea life actually flourishes in artificial reefs created around turbine support structures.
7 Critics are blowing hot air. Start-up costs for offshore wind projects are less expensive than they contend. While operational and maintenance costs are higher because of the volatility of weather patterns and tides, the potential for energy is also far greater offshore, between 30 and 40 per cent greater than on land. We also escape the extra costs associated with making turbines resistant to the ravages of saltwater and engineering them to withstand powerful ocean currents, since Lake Ontario is freshwater and mostly calm.
8 It makes sense to have power closest to the largest population centres. And wind power is cheap; wind farms are cheaper per kilowatt hour to build, operate and decommission than any other type of new power generating system. Wind can provide 100 per cent green power at no extra cost. It's being done in Los Angeles, where seed money for wind projects comes from customers who can pay slightly higher premiums for a mix of conventional and renewable power, some 6 per cent (a cost that can be offset by installing energy-saving light bulbs) until green facilities can be built and start supplying them with cheaper, 100 per cent renewables.
9 The alternative, nukes, is not a viable option. Don't believe the hype. Nuke is neither clean nor cheap. At best, it's a short-term solution. Bottom line: we can't afford more multi-billion-dollar overruns, which are inevitable every time we try to fire up another reactor. After decades of study, including a plan to bury the spent radioactive fuel in rock in the Canadian Shield, we still don't know what to do with the waste.
10 Hey, if Manhattan is toying with the idea of putting turbines atop skyscrapers....