Toronto’s Ex Place wind turbine: icon or mirage?
Exhibition Place wind turbine: the iconic and the inept
If a pollster surveyed Toronto residents asking if they had ever seen a “wind turbine,” most of them would respond that they had—it’s at Exhibition Place. The 91-meter turbine on Toronto’s waterfront has become “iconic.” Built in 2002 by the WindShare Co-operative, with an initial capacity of 750 kilowatts (since reduced to 600 kilowatts), the little wind turbine has been the subject of many articles and news stories, and a handy backdrop for former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s “photo ops.” WindShare bills it as “Canada’s premier wind turbine.”
The turbine has played a role in university theses for students seeking degrees in environmental studies. Most made incorrect assumptions, probably based on the information they gathered from the co-operative that fostered the turbine. One such thesis, written by a University of Waterloo student, claimed the Exhibition Place turbine would produce “1,400 MW hours of energy per year (enough to power approximately 250 homes).” The truth is, those 250 homes would actually require 2,400 MWh annually (9.6 MWh X 250 homes = 2,400 MWh) not 1,400 MWh, and second to achieve that level of power generation, the turbine would have to operate at almost 46% of its maximum capacity—that’s well above the norm of 29-30% for turbines today. But claims like that were regularly produced by the proponents and seldom dispelled or even questioned.
Co-op Week also used the same figures of 1,400 MWh and the 250 homes, proving that not much effort went into understanding its capabilities. Co-op‘s 2004 article on the WindShare turbine opened with: “It’s hard to miss the huge wind turbine revolving in the sky at Exhibition Place on Toronto’s waterfront. But less obvious is the dramatic story behind its evolution.”
To describe the Exhibition Place turbine as “huge” today is a stretch. It is a pinwheel compared to the 1,200 much bigger turbines (up to 3 megawatt/MW capacity and as tall as 500 feet) that are now throughout rural Ontario. But its impact on Ontario’s political scene has been significant: it has served the Liberal politicians well as an emblem and icon for their unfounded endorsement of large-scale renewable power generation, well before the creation of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.
WindShare Co-operative, a “for-profit wind power co-operative” was incubated by TREC (Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative) and is co-owned by the WindShare co-op members and Toronto Hydro Energy Services Inc. (THESI). The latter is of course wholly owned by the City of Toronto taxpayers and is the local distribution company delivering electricity to 701,000 captive ratepayers. TREC’s website claims the turbine is 94 meters high with a capacity of 660 kilowatts, so even the proponents are not clear on its basic specifications. TREC’s website also still claims it will produce enough electricity to power 250 homes.
WindShare members purchased 16,000 shares in $500 blocks as investments to raise $800,000; while they have all probably written off their investment by now, many of them were recently named on a plaque at the base of the turbine. These names will be familiar to anyone fighting the erection of huge industrial wind power plants in Ontario’s quiet rural communities. They represent the cadre of people that pushed the Green Energy Act onto the unsuspecting public via the McGuinty Liberal government.
One is Joyce McLean, Director, Strategic Issues at Toronto Hydro. Ms. McLean served two terms as the Chair of CanWEA, was active with Greenpeace, and is firmly committed to renewable energy. The plaque also lists Environmental Defence and the Summerhill Group and connects the two individuals, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, involved in those entities. (Smith and Lourie were named as repeat winners in the 2014 Financial Post “Rubber Duck Award” for junk science.)
Others on the list such as Deb Doncaster and Brian Iler played a role in the Green Energy Act Alliance or GEAA, and Glen Estil (former President of CanWEA), Dianne Saxe and Tom Rand (Senior Advisor, MaRS Discovery District) are Toronto-based proponents of industrial wind turbines. Clayton Ruby, a Toronto lawyer (who participated in a false claim against Wind Concerns Ontario) is another name found on the plaque. Two interesting names found on the plaque are Enbridge Gas and the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Curiously missing on the plaque is George Smitherman, despite this honour: “Green Energy Act Alliance presents Minister Smitherman with an honorary membership in the Windshare Co-operative.”
So how has this magnificent machine performed for the investors, among whom are the people of Toronto?
A review of THESI’s annual reports reveals that the investment in the turbine is not mentioned any time after 2007. And the 2007 report carried only a short mention: “TH Energy/WindShare wind turbine at Exhibition Place has produced approximately 4 million kWh of green energy since 2003.” If you do the math, that 4 million kWh of power that was produced over five years for an average of 800K kWh annually is enough to power 83 homes—not the 250 claimed in so many written dissertations.
Is the Exhibition Place turbine an icon…or a mirage?
July 3, 2014
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Wind Concerns Ontario policy.
Tomorrow: the stats on how the wind power investment performed