Wind energy is relatively new to Ontario and is becoming a fast growing source of electricity generation.
There are at least five wind turbines in the region, including two models just north of Waterloo, a turbine at the YMCA Outdoor Education centre near Paradise Lake and at a couple of farms located in Baden and Milverton. These structures with three rotating blades are churning out electrical power for their owners. Even though the region is not known for particularly high winds attractive to wind developers, there are exceptions in treeless areas west of Woolwich.
All wind turbines operate on the same principle: when the wind blows it pushes a rotating blade which turns a shaft creating a rotating magnetic field, generating electricity. The power and energy created increases as wind speeds amplify and the most lucrative wind turbines are located in the windiest areas.
Wind speed is affected by the topography and increases with height above the ground, so wind turbines are usually mounted on tall towers.
“Wind is a very efficient way to capturing energy and transferring it into electricity and this can pay off financially,” said Shane Mulligan project manager for Local Initiative for Future Energy (L.I.F.E.) Co-op based in Kitchener.
The turbines have other advantages as well, he added, including environmental, economic and community benefits that go well beyond the financial returns.
“When we look at investments in wind power, we are looking at people who are interested in more than just financials and are committed to the environmental values of the long-term energy security opportunity. When it comes to community wind power [is] a community building project,” he said.
The co-op is currently working on a community project to allow local investors to co-own a wind turbine with an aim of building a two megawatt wind tower at a St. Agatha site for connection to the provincial electrical grid and take advantage of the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program rates and the economic potential of wind power.
The FIT program pays for electricity generated by renewable sources. Electricity generated from a wind turbine to the grid creates a credit towards the owner’s energy costs.
“There is a lot more in it than just the money,” said Mulligan. “It is a community building project which reflects the European experience where a community has gotten together around the project and it has enhanced their collective sense because they are participating together. This is what the L.I.F.E. co-op is working towards here in the area. We are trying to build a community in the pursuit of this endeavour.”
Local farmers looking to have extra heat or a backup electricity supply have a prime opportunity for healthy-sized wind projects. In some areas, farmers can sell their backup power to the local hydro distribution company.
In Woolwich Township, however, farmers are only allowed to erect farm-scale wind turbines that must be an accessory to the farming operation, meaning the power generated must be used as part of the farm and cannot be sold on a commercial basis.
“Right now residents that would like to erect wind turbines would run into problems with existing zoning bylaws. Although there are no laws that prohibit the turbines there are height restrictions,” said Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning services.
Currently the municipality is going through an Official Plan review exercise that includes dealing with changes to provincial policies that have occurred since the last update; one of the major changes to has been to renewable energy options.
“The province is certainly encouraging us to allow for renewable energy but at this point in the review we have not really grappled with issue of renewable energy,” said Kennaley. “We are aware of the controversy that surrounds wind turbines and we will be proceeding carefully on our new policy concerning them.”
Opponents of the turbines claim there are many health concerns that surround the technology, with complaints ranging from the low frequency noise, infrasound, stress, sleep disturbance and both physiological and mental health issues.
A recent report conducted by noise, vibration and acoustics experts commissioned by the province, however, says the sound wind turbines create pose no direct health risks. The study looked at more than 100 reports from Ontario, Alberta and countries around the world.
The report found that the province’s rules to control wind turbine sound are rigorous, the Ministry of the Environment said this week in releasing the report. The minimum setback is currently 550 metres from any residence, school or church with a sound limit of 40 decibels.
Those limits conform to World Health Organization standards.
“Our priority is to develop renewable energy in a way that protects Ontarians. This report finds that we are on the right track by taking a cautious approach when setting standards for wind turbine setbacks and sound limits,” Environment Minister Jim Bradley is quoted on the ministry website.
The Ontario government has pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2014 with hopes to increase wind, solar and biomass production.