In the five years since Ontario scrapped all its plans for wind farms on the Great Lakes because we needed more scientific research on them, the government went four years without commissioning any.
Once upon a time, way back in 2009, the province’s Green Energy Act seemed to make it a priority to get windmills built in Ontario waters, as part of a big brave plan to make Ontario a world leader in renewable electricity. We’d kickstart a domestic green-power industry by using ourselves as guinea pigs.
In 2011, the provincial government gave up. It cancelled all the offshore wind projects then in development and put a moratorium on new ones. The lack of documentation around that major government decision is now under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police, and is the subject of a $500-million lawsuit by Trillium Power Wind Corp., which saw its plan for a wind farm in Lake Ontario off Kingston vaporized by a press release one February morning.
“We were the poster child,” says Trillium’s chief executive John Kourtoff. Trillium was an Ontario-based company trying to give life to the Liberal government’s dream of an Ontario-based industry in wind and solar power. “Till the government came along and cut the bootstraps.”
“We’re taking a cautious and a responsible approach to offshore wind to allow for the development of research and co-ordination,” Premier Kathleen Wynne told the legislature on Wednesday. “The minister of the environment is doing some of that research, looking at the issue to ensure that we protect the health and safety of people and of the environment. We look forward to additional research coming forward, and we stand behind our cautious and responsible approach to offshore wind energy.”
The world has numerous wind farms in ocean waters, primarily in Europe, though ones in lakes are still rare.
You can put up bigger turbines far from neighbours, generating more power while reducing complaints and objections — even a big offshore wind farm can be just specks on the horizon instead of a big thrumming thing close to farms or country homes. Like oceans, the Great Lakes have open space that allows high and reliable winds. Waves and tides on lakes are less of an engineering problem than on oceans.
(Lakes have fish and birds, too, they’re more susceptible to ice, and some people are as protective of their lake views as others are of their rural landscapes. Wind farms on lakes are not worry-free.)
Trillium’s plan was to take maximum advantage of a spot on Lake Ontario, in shallow water but about 15 kilometres from the nearest land, with an underwater cable to plug into the grid at an existing transformer station. It intended to build a wind farm capable of generating about 600 megawatts, triple the capacity of Ontario’s biggest wind farm on land today and equivalent to a standard nuclear reactor.
The 2011 cancellation was devastating, but not the first time Ontario’s offshore wind industry had been whipped around.
In 2007, which was an election year, the Ontario government suspended wind-farm developments in the Great Lakes, awaiting further scientific research. At the time, a proposal for a string of windmills in Lake Ontario was a political problem for the government. The 60 windmills would have been only a couple of kilometres out, easily visible from shore, and would have run from east Toronto to suburban Ajax.
Three months after the election, the government lifted that moratorium. “The information we have acquired will help us and wind developers make better-informed decisions on offshore wind power projects,” said the environment minister at the time, Donna Cansfield. They’d studied each of the lakes, devised rules for protecting them and the life in them, and it was time to roll.
In 2011, which was an election year, the government stopped Great Lakes wind-farm work again. Only this time, any application already underway was dead and all agreements to let companies use lakebeds were torn up. Everything was cancelled, not just paused. Trillium’s financing deal, hours away from being signed, was dead.
The government said it wanted to do yet more science, and especially learn from two lake-based windfarms, one in Sweden and one in development on the American side of Lake Erie. (The Netherlands has had small inland-lake wind farms since the 1990s, but studying those wasn’t on the agenda.)
“When there is greater scientific certainty, consideration of offshore wind development will resume,” the government’s notice said.
So what science did the province pursue?
The Ministry of the Environment got three reports about windfarming in freshwater lakes a little later in 2011. Two were about protecting fish, one about “coastal engineering.”
In January 2015, nearly four years after killing offshore wind developments, the government hired experts to conduct two new studies.
“One report will seek the best available science pertaining to the prediction of noise impacts at land-based receptors from the operation of offshore wind turbines,” said ministry spokesman Lindsay Davidson — as in, will you be able to hear windmills out on the lake if you’re standing on land? That’s a $51,000 project, he said.
“The other will consider the decommissioning of offshore wind turbines and ancillary equipment at the end of their useful life without causing adverse effects to the surrounding environment,” Davidson said. That one’s costing $277,000.
When the environment ministry tendered for the studies, it said it expected conducting them would take six to nine months. Fifteen months later, they’re still in progress. Davidson says the ministry expects to release them by the end of this year.
In the meantime, companies that do wind farms on water have wandered off, says Robert Hornung, the president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
“What’s happened since the moratorium’s been put in place is that those who had an interest in that have started to look to opportunities in other markets. Today we still have no offshore wind operating in North America,” he says.
One project in the Atlantic off Delaware is probably closest to fruition, he says. Other states are pushing ocean-based projects, too: some Massachusetts legislators want to jumpstart offshore wind power there by requiring their utilities to buy thousands of megawatts of power from ocean windmill companies, creating an estimated $10-billion market. British Columbia and Newfoundland have ones that have proceeded in fits and starts.
Since nobody has done any work on offshore wind farms in Ontario since the 2011 moratorium, Kourtoff figures Trillium’s Lake Ontario project is by default still the most advanced. But the company also has a poisonous relationship with the government.
Suppose some way could be found to settle the civil case and the government decided to overlook the police investigation Trillium triggered. “Could we bring back the team? Absolutely. It would take us a few months but we could do it,” Kourtoff says. The trouble would be funding it.
“If they said, ‘Now, we’re going to allow offshore (wind projects),’ who in the world would put money into it unless there were ironclad guarantees?” Kourtoff asks. “In this case, the government would have to be a partner to give any credibility to the international partners who would put up the $2 billion. They’re not going to take any permitting or regulatory risk.”
Hornung is a bit more circumspect but his view is pretty similar: “Any time there’s policy uncertainty or policy change, that’s a negative signal to investors,” he says.
Ontario doesn’t seem in any hurry to change that signal back.
Jason Bateman - John Stewart - The Daily Show
A proposed wind turbine installation near Camp Perry in Northwestern Ohio has recently been halted by environmental groups that turn out to have connections to the oil, gas and tourism industries. Bird lovers have been tricked into being their supporters! It now appears that a wind turbine erected at The Lake Erie Business Park is being targeted. To quote from one media release, "The Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio is among the worst possible locations for a wind power project."
The structure and manipulative tactics of these groups should be exposed. It is those with vested interests in the outdated, bird-killing, planet-destroying fuels of the past who are leading the opposition to our move towards a more environmentally friendly future. The wind that blows across the Great Lakes is a plentiful, free, clean, and jobs-creating source of power. We should begin using it as soon as possible.
It is disturbing that people purporting to be bird lovers have managed to prevent the Ohio Air National Guard from erecting a wind turbine close to the shore of Lake Erie. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), as well as the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), claim that migrating species might fly into the tower or blades. Apparently these groups are unaware of the Danish radar studies, done about a decade ago, showing that birds successfully navigate around or between wind installations, and are very rarely killed or injured.
In addition, the ABC and the BSBO don't point to the actual dangers posed by the skyscrapers of Toledo that these same migrating birds will also be flying through. This is in spite of authoritative U.S. data confirming that by far the most deadly cause of accidental bird death (58 percent of it) is as a result of impact with high-rise buildings and glass windows. Ten percent of it is caused by domestic cats, and only 0.01 percent of it is as a result of hitting wind turbines!
Are there perhaps some underlying, and competing interests involved?
The ABC's Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer, Michael Parr, acts as an Advisory Board Member for a conservation fund created by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, whose family control 97.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Parr wrote in June 2015 about a number of ABC projects that have actually been supported by the Crown Prince's fund. In addition, ABC's Treasurer, V. Richard Eales, is a Director of Range Resources Corporation, an oil and gas exploration and production company that is currently focused on exploiting the vast Marcellus shale deposits in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
There is no doubt that many conservation societies are genuinely working to protect vulnerable wildlife. However, it seems that using such an organization as cover may also be useful as a marketing tool when the main goal is to distract from the continual extraction of fossil fuels.
As for the BSBO, which states that its mission is the conservation of birds, it was completely hilarious to note on its home page this February that it supports Waterfowl Hunting! Well, after all, if they forbade that, then the $37 million that the area has been gaining from local tourism might be negatively impacted.
Hypocrisy is just too gentle a description for such deliberate diversion of attention away from the true origins of our problems. The public is being effectively tricked into disliking our planet-saving sources of energy, and being turned back to using those environment-destroying fossil fuels.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others have called climate change the number one threat to all wildlife, including birds. Four Republican former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency recently expressed the immediate need to solve climate change, stating, “The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller.”
Generating electricity through wind power is a vital step in solving the problem of climate change. Wind turbines emit no pollution, require no mining or drilling for fuel, use no water, and create no hazardous or radioactive waste. And installed wind power in the U. S. now displaces nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year – which is the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road!
The Ohio Air National Guard are helping to lead the way, with their effort to erect a wind turbine at their Camp Perry site near Port Clinton. They are the TRUE environmentalists!
There is a growing sense among the public that life on our planet is being threatened by our careless misuse of its resources.
The most obvious evidence of this misuse is climate change. Unexpected dramatic weather patterns are now being experienced everywhere. Along with rising sea levels, due to the melting of polar ice, these patterns have led to increased flooding of coastal communities. Perhaps more insidious is the growing desertification of large continental areas. This is accompanied by a rapid reduction in fresh water supply, essential for food production, in neighboring agricultural regions.
Specifically, it is the burning of fossil fuels, with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, that is to blame. Those fuels powered up the industrial revolution, but their time has come and gone.
We can replant swaths of landscape to absorb some of the carbon dioxide that humans continue to produce, but our overwhelming need is to transition rapidly to carbon-free sources of energy. Our planet is fortunately blessed with just such non-polluting energy resources - the sun and the wind - which can, with relatively small investments, provide us with unlimited supplies of power into the indefinite future.
There is just one thing that might get in the way - namely the financial interest of those with a stake in our outdated sources of energy. These tycoons may be few in number, but they are huge in influence (i.e. money!). They know that wind and solar power installations can be rapidly built, can threaten the profitability of coal, oil and gas, and can subsequently lead to their mines and wells being closed down. They therefore feel a need to create and sow widespread doubt amongst the public, about the effectiveness of the new sources of energy. This goal is being accomplished, extraordinarily successfully, through the exploitation of a completely unexpected resource - human sympathy.
So how did they achieve this?
Years ago, with the erection of the first wind turbines around the United States, the public response that was most discussed was that of visual impact. It is understandable that when large new structures are added to the landscape, some concern may follow. However, it turns out that as people become aware of the usefulness of the new additions, and of their contribution to society's well-being, then acceptance, and even affection, follow. This transition from hostility to appreciation happens, even when a structure is not intended to be functional. An example of this, cited by Paul Gipe in "Wind Power in View", is the evolution of Parisians' attitudes - from negative to positive - to the erection of the Eiffel Tower.
Fossil fuel interests soon realized that it was unlikely that they could delay the erection of wind turbines by encouraging dislike based on visual pollution. So what other factor could they find - or maybe invent - that the public might object to? The unexpected answer is danger to birds and bats.
Most humans care about animals (at least the ones they don't eat). This is particularly true of bird lovers, of which there are millions in the United States. Caring for birds is based on unselfishness, unlike one's feelings about an altered view, or about mechanical noise. By appealing to peoples' concern, and potential guilt, rather than to their self-interest, fossil fuel supporters have brilliantly succeeded in cultivating not just delaying tactics, but outright opposition to the installation of wind turbines. Countless statements in countless documents now describe the danger that wind turbine blades pose to birds. Repetition sparks repetition. More and more extensive and elaborate studies are demanded for every proposed wind project. Many installations have now been put on hold, or simply stopped. All this is in spite of the fact that accidental bird deaths are thousands of times more likely to be due to collision with glass windows than to collision with wind turbines (see linked article). Less obvious, but even more deadly, is the mortal threat that global climate change is already causing directly, to many animals.
All this deception by the fossil-fuel industry would be effective enough, even if they were the only ones responsible for spreading the fear-mongering. However, they have had the invaluable support of some so-called environmental groups, who have provided the key element of credibility to the deceit. How much these self-described conservation groups are unwitting supporters, and how much they are actual allies, of the anti-wind power effort, has yet to be decided. Some of them have simply helped to spread doubts about the sites of many wind projects, while others have actually been the leaders in halting proposed wind installations (see linked article). Some unrelated environmental organizations then highlight these stories in their publications, and inadvertently spread the lies even further.
It is vital that we all become aware of this massive deception. We should realize that birds are capable of navigating around or between the slowly rotating blades of large wind turbines, and are in far, far greater danger when they fly near our towns and cities.
If we allow ourselves to be deceived by the fossil-fuel industry and their fabricated worries about birds, then we will be refusing to look the future squarely in the face. We must end our addiction to fossil fuels, and work to establish clean, renewable alternatives.
The birds and bats will thank us.
This article is a Truthout original.