Premier reveals support for offshore energy plan
TheStar.com: STEVE RUSSELL, Tyler Hamilton, Rob Ferguson - January 16, 2008
Winds caught by turbines on land, such as these on Highway 10 near Shelburne, are less predictable and don't pack as much energy as winds over water. Bidding process details on lake power project unveiled next month
Offshore wind could play an important role in the development of renewable energy resources in Ontario, says Premier Dalton McGuinty, who confirmed yesterday that an official announcement on wind power in the Great Lakes is coming soon.
"We've received advice that you can, in fact, do more to harness wind power - that you can harness that wind power offshore," the premier said.
"You don't just have to stay on land, and you can do it in a way that does not compromise ecosystems," he added.
McGuinty's comments follow a report in Tuesday's Toronto Star that the government will soon clear the way for the development of wind projects in the Great Lakes after a 14-month moratorium.
The government used the time to study, in collaboration with U.S. authorities, the potential environmental impact of such projects on bats, butterflies, aquatic species and bird migration routes.
Tapping wind energy in the Great Lakes to produce electricity has never been done, and a decision by Ontario to move forward with certain projects would likely attract worldwide attention, experts say.
Offshore wind farms, such as those proposed or already built near Denmark, the United Kingdom and British Columbia, are typically located in the ocean.
John Kourtoff, chief executive of Toronto-based Trillium Power Energy Corp., which wants to build Canada's largest wind farm in Lake Ontario about 15 kilometres offshore from Prince Edward County, said the winds found over bodies of water pack more energy and are more predictable than those over land.
And unlike an ocean, which is subject to extreme weather and wave activity, Lake Ontario offers a less volatile environment to construct and operate a wind farm.
Ontario currently has five major wind farms in operation with the potential to produce 400 megawatts of electricity - slightly less than an average-size natural gas plant. But according to a study by GE Energy, the intermittent nature of wind means the province can only rely on getting an average of 17 per cent, or 68 megawatts, of that power capacity during the summer.
Keith Stewart, a climate analyst at environmental group WWF-Canada, said the industry is getting better at predicting when the wind blows and choosing the right location for projects. "Every electron that comes out of a wind turbine means one less required from a fossil plant," he said.
In 2007, wind farms in Ontario supplied slightly more than one terawatt-hour of electricity compared to 0.44 terawatt-hours in 2006, more than doubling output, according to the Independent Electricity System Operator.
Put into context, Ontario consumed 152 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2007. This means wind still represented only 0.7 per cent of total electricity.
Still, Stewart sees this as an achievement. "Wind now shows up on the charts and doesn't simply get lumped into `other' any more," he said.
"And when you look in the pipeline, wind is poised to become a big new player, particularly if we can get some of that offshore stuff going."
The system operator said another 700 megawatts of wind projects are scheduled to come into service over the next 18 months, and by 2010 a total of 1,300 megawatts have been targeted.
Looking beyond that goal, the Ministry of Energy announced last August it had directed the Ontario Power Authority to procure another 2,000 megawatts of renewable power, much of it likely coming from wind.
Tim Taylor, a spokesperson for the power authority, said the draft details of the bidding process are scheduled for release in mid-February, and project proposals would be accepted in August. The government wants to procure about 500 megawatts in the first round, but the outcome could be higher.
Kourtoff plans to submit a bid, and is hopeful the power authority will see merit in his offshore proposal. Trillium's project calls for 140 massive turbines, likely five megawatts each in size, with a capacity to produce at least 700 megawatts of renewable power. The power could carry through an underwater high-voltage transmission cable to the Lennox Generating Station, near Bath.
The turbines would hardly be seen from shore, and would be erected on a shallow stretch of lake - no more than 12 metres deep. Kourtoff said studies so far indicate no impact on bird migration routes and a positive impact on aquatic species.
Trillium has raised about $5 million to help fund preliminary engineering and environmental studies, and has already hired engineering giant Amec Energy to oversee the project. There are also plans to take the company public.