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Ontario’s wind power snags lamented


Wind turbines offshore in the Great Lakes have the potential to generate a huge chunk of Ontario’s power, but a more streamlined approval process is needed if the offshore industry’s potential is to be achieved.

That’s the conclusion of a report from wind developer Trillium Power Wind Corp., which calculates that the Ontario government has received applications for offshore projects that would generate almost 21,000 megawatts of power, if they all came to fruition.

Ontario currently produces about 35,000 MW of electricity, mostly from nuclear plants, natural gas, hydro and coal.

“The potential for offshore wind development on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes is enormous,” the company’s report says. The industry could generate more than $250-billion of economic activity over 15 years, it adds.

The Ontario government has been so overwhelmed with applications for offshore wind projects that last fall it stopped accepting them. It expects a review to be complete by March, when it will have a plan for releasing sites to developers.

Trillium itself has plans to build a 142-turbine, 710-MW project in eastern Lake Ontario, with all the turbines at least 17 kilometres from the shore.

The company’s report praises Ontario for its new Green Energy Act, which includes a high price of 19 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity generated by offshore wind – more than double the current retail rate. The act also made it easier to get permits.

But Trillium argues that even higher prices, to compensate for high transmission costs, and a speedier approval process are also needed if the offshore industry’s potential is to be achieved.

One industry watcher says there is another reason that North America is far behind Europe in building offshore wind farms. Emerging Energy Research (EER), a consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass., says that unlike Europe, many potential sites for onshore wind farms are still available on this continent, and these are far cheaper to exploit than offshore sites.

EER also said high costs are likely to slow the creation of offshore wind businesses in Canada and the United States. It predicts that the first offshore wind plant in North America won’t be built until 2012.

Canada’s first offshore development is likely to be Naikun Wind Energy Group Inc.’s project in Hecate Straight, off Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. That project has received environmental approvals and is now awaiting a purchase agreement from the B.C. government. Recently, it was ranked by ReNew Canada magazine as the fifth-largest infrastructure project under way in the country.

But the Great Lakes offer the greatest potential, Trillium says, because of the mix of high winds, relatively shallow water and the proximity of existing transmission lines.

Its report says the Great Lakes have an advantage over the ocean, because there is no corrosion from salt water, tides are non-existent and waves are relatively small.

Still, the idea of building thousands of wind turbines in the Great Lakes has some environmental watchdogs leery.

Mark Mattson, president of research and education group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, said he is particularly concerned about lobbying by Trillium and other wind developers to further simplify an approvals process in Ontario that has already been streamlined.

“We think more wind [power] is good,” he said, but there must be an opportunity for thorough public input. “The idea that people are red tape, and that their concerns about the ecosystems and habitat of the Great Lakes are somehow barriers to economic prosperity, is antithetical.”

 

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