This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

Post

Offshore Wind Energy Grows in Great Lakes, But Not in Ontario

Tyler Hamilton's picture

Tyler Hamilton is a business columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper. In addition to this Clean Break blog, Tyler writes a weekly column of the same name that...

  • Member since 2018
  • 372 items added with 80,076 views
  • Mar 10, 2013
  • 929 views

Is the offshore wind opportunity in Ontario permanently dead in the water?

It was in February 2011 – an election year—when the Liberal government abruptly killed the ambitions of any wind developer looking to place wind turbines in the Great Lakes. It booted offshore wind out of the feed-in tariff program and it suspended all applications, citing the need for more scientific research until, in the words of the environment minister, there is assurance “any offshore wind developments are protective of the environment.”

That’s a pretty high standard. Can any energy development really protect the environment?

Never mind that government scientists have been studying the issue since at least 2007, or that when a previous moratorium on offshore wind development was lifted in 2008, then-premier Dalton McGuinty was convinced that such developments could be done in a way that would not compromise ecosystems.

But more studies were needed. Fair enough.

So where are these studies?offshore wind energy

As the Star’s John Spears reported last month, three studies were posted on the Ministry of Natural Resources’ website in February – two dealing with impacts on aquatic species and fish habitat, and one a more comprehensive engineering impact study.

Strangely, all three were completed and submitted to the government in spring-summer 2011. It’s not clear why it took 18 months for them to become publicly known, or what has been done since then.

It’s also not clear how many more studies are coming, what kinds of studies are still needed, when they will all be completed, and if, once completed, the ministry has any intention of reconsidering the moratorium.

“We still need to gather more information.” That’s all ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski was prepared to answer when repeatedly asked the questions. The natural resources ministry, she added, “will work with the Ministry of Environment and other agencies to help determine future research and science priorities and activities.”

In other words, there’s no rush. They’re still determining. Still gathering. I can’t remember any other energy source being put through so much study for so long before a single kilowatt was produced, except perhaps the kind that creates highly radioactive waste.

Here’s some perspective: two years ago Ontario was in a strong position to lead the world on freshwater offshore wind development, attract a major turbine manufacturer, establish a compelling local supply chain, and create many thousands of jobs. Today, the government is being sued for billions of dollars for turning its back on this potential, not to mention the investors it originally wooed.

Meanwhile, Ohio has picked up the slack. The non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDco) received $4 million (U.S.) last month from the U.S. Department of Energy that will go toward engineering, design and permitting work for its “Icebreaker” offshore wind project.

Icebreaker will be a five-turbine (possibly nine) offshore wind farm located about 11 kilometres off the shoreline of Cleveland. It will have the potential to generate more than 20 megawatts of electricity, and will be a first-of-its-kind in North America.

Turbine manufacturer Siemens, wind developer Freshwater Wind, Case Western Reserve University and municipal governments in the area are partners in the project. LEEDCo’s goal is to see 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind developed by 2020 within Ohio’s jurisdiction.

That could have been us. Note that Siemens used to have an interest in partnering up in Ontario until we abandoned all talk of offshore wind.

Is it that the studies Ontario has conducted to date suggest the risks to the environment and health are too high to proceed? No. They do highlight some real risks, but they also draw attention to the many benefits and point out ways to minimize the risks.

“If care is taken to properly site project locations, avoid sensitive habitat areas, employ available options or continue to develop new options for mitigation, and conduct appropriate biological monitoring, the potential impacts of offshore wind power production could in fact be minimal,” concludes one of the studies from the natural resources ministry’s own aquatic research group.

The study goes on to talk about the limitations of doing lab and computer-model studies. “We cannot fully understand the environmental impact that a wind power project will have until we are able to study the response of the local system to the construction and operation of an actual installation in the field.”

It suggests that the next step be small-scale pilot projects, at minimum. “Ultimately, however, the greatest and most valuable knowledge would be gained through focused research and monitoring at commercial-scale demonstration projects throughout the construction phase and over the long-term during operation. Looking ahead, collaboration between government, industry and academic partners to plan and initiate this type of project would be highly valuable.”

That’s exactly what the Ohio consortium is doing.

Nobody is saying that Ontario should run out and develop 1,000 megawatts of wind tomorrow. But the current surpluses being experienced in the province’s electricity system won’t last forever. Coal generation will be gone within the year. Aging nuclear reactors will soon enough be taken offline for refurbishment or decommissioning.

The power crunch will come. Offshore wind, responsibly developed and set back far enough from the shore, could be an important part of Ontario’s clean energy mix. If we need more research, maybe it’s time we actually dipped our feet in the water and actually built something we can properly study.

Or we can just look over our neighbour’s shoulder.

Tyler Hamilton's picture
Thank Tyler for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Discussions
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Mar 11, 2013

Willem, will the gas last forever? What are the long term and short term consequences of fracking? Do they need gas pipe to avoid transmission? Is there enough hydro? What are the political and environmental consequences of building more hydo? Like Tyler said, we can't nor do we want to build 1000 Mw of offshore overnight. We know it has huge potential but won't know all the pitfalls until a number of small projects are built and operating.

Mary Hartman's picture
Mary Hartman on Mar 15, 2013

It takes time to gather data on ecological and environmental impacts, including time to develop a protocol for gathering that data, applications for money to implement the protocols, time to assess the effectiveness of the chosen methodology, and several seasons to gather data so it can be construed as reliable.  The greatest problem I see with wind energy is that it has been developed, permited and installed based on perceptions, not science.  Science takes time.  Relax.  There is great and necessary work being done.  While he who sites the most industrial wind does get the most taxpayer and rate payer money, that does not necessarily make them a "winner".  The country/county/state that implements this technology the most wisely is going to come out on top.  

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »