Parker Gallant in Farmers Forum: wind turbines useless or source of cash?
Wind turbines: Divisive and useless or welcome easy money?
By Parker Gallant
Special to Farmers Forum, March 2014
I recently had the pleasure of being invited to do a presentation to the Prescott Federation of Agriculture by dairy farmer Reg Presley. The presentation explained what is behind the four lines on our electricity bills. Judging by the looks on faces, questions and comments afterwards, I think some of those at the OFA meeting were shocked by what we are all paying for.
Traveling through rural Ontario we frequently encounter strange sights now appearing with regularity. Those sights are industrial wind turbines soaring up to 500 feet, sometimes spinning and other times idle. Meant to displace fossil fuels (coal) those turbines were touted as producers of clean electricity which would save us health costs. That was the spin.
My interest in energy didn’t come from viewing the turbines. It came from a nasty electricity bill received from Hydro One for our place in Prince Edward County; a farming community. The research I put into the electricity system reflected on my banking background and why my bill had jumped. As I delved into the way the system functioned I was shocked to see Ontario had implemented a “renewable energy” strategy with no cost/benefit study! It was initially launched by Dwight Duncan when he sat in the Energy Minster’s chair and later expanded by the passing of the Green Energy Act under George Smitherman.
What I found was the move to renewable energy drove up the cost of what all Ontarians tend to regard as a “necessity of life.” Wind generated electricity presents itself in the middle of the night and in the spring and fall; periods when demand is lowest. Also, their intermittent nature means they need rampable back-up power and gas plants (including those moved at a cost of $1.1 billion) fill that gap. Because wind and solar generators get “first to the grid” rights our grid manager is often faced with conditions that may cause blackouts or brownouts.
In those situations Ontario is forced to either export power at a loss, spill hydro, steam off nuclear or pay wind and solar developers for NOT generating.
Those events cause our bill for electricity to rise and recent estimates indicate our loss on just the export side costs Ontario ratepayers in excess of $1 billion annually.
With another 3,700 MW of wind and 1,200 MW of solar to be added to Ontario’s supply those costs will continue to grow! The Energy Minister recently said rates will increase 33 % over the next three years.
Things looked differently a few years ago when Premier McGuinty in a speech stated: “we know the price of fossil fuels will keep going up, while we know the price of renewable technologies will keep coming down. We know where the world is going. And we choose to lead, not follow.”
As a result wind and solar developers swept through Ontario, signing up farmers, promising cash payments for simply allowing them to erect a wind turbine occupying less than an acre of land. Leases were signed and the money started to flow. Early signers found out later they should have held out for more money. Later on lessors discovered those turbines created friction with their neighbours and even family feuds because of the “global warming” debate. The leases locked in farmers, controlling future actions such as severing land, exiting the lease or negotiating early termination; meaning the friction(s) could not be cured.
Those turbines also kill birds and bats; bats that no longer consume insects that infect or destroy crops and result in the need to use pesticides. The estimated cost of pesticide use by Science Magazine as a result of bat kills by wind turbines in Pensylvania was $74 per acre.
Last year I discovered my neighbour had optioned some of his farmland to a wind developer and we chatted about it extensively, discussing the cash payments versus the down side of wind turbines.
Former Premier McGuinty’s musings have not materialized as that “cash crop” to benefit farmers but has wound up in the wind and solar developer pockets while the rest of us hand it over. The lead McGuinty envisaged has been a blow to our pocketbooks. Perhaps we should have simply been a follower.
Parker Gallant is a Toronto-based former Royal Bank vice-president, who has retirement property in Prince Edward County. He is vice president of Ontario Wind Concerns, an anti-wind power umbrella group.