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magazine / jun09

June 2009 issue

On with the wind  (Page 1 of 6)

Economic uncertainties, logistical challenges and environmental debates are buffeting this fast-growing energy sector
By John Lorinc with photography by Benoit Aquin
A crane installs a rotor on a wind turbine generator near Carleton in Quebec’s Gaspé region.
Feature story
On with the wind
•  Anatomy of a wind turbine
•  Wind power for Everyman
Map: Wind speeds in Canada
Photo Gallery: Wind energy
Wind energy facts
Wind energy in
Canada timeline
How does noise
International Wind
Energy Industry

On a wet and blustery spring day in June 2008, Frédéric Savage, a good-natured civil engineer, eases his strapping frame into a Toyota Matrix and navigates the mud-splattered car out of the storied copper-mining town of Murdochville, Que., in central Gaspé, past the shuttered stores and a small hotel, across the highway, and, finally, onto the steep, rutted track that winds up Mont Miller. After about 10 minutes on the switchback road, we see them, sort of — a series of white, slightly tapered steel columns thrusting up into the low-hanging clouds. While the rotating blades aren’t visible, their gentle whompf-whompf sound wafts down through the mist.

Made-in-Quebec blades have been exported to Brazil and the United States, and orders are pouring in as Quebec keeps boosting its targets.
Savage managed the construction of this 30-turbine wind farm, which is owned by 3Ci énergie éolienne, an upstart clean-energy firm based in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Que., east of Montréal. The parc éolien was built in 2004-05 on three mountains that ring Murdochville. Like many of the province’s ambitious energy projects, the construction was gruelling, much of it completed during harsh weather. Over two winters and one summer, Savage’s crew carved dirt roads out of the mountain, then blasted deep holes for the concrete foundations of the 67-metre-high towers, which were trucked in and installed by crane. At times, the winter gales blew so ferociously that the crew had to halt work on the project — an ironic reminder of why the towers are where they are.

As the rain starts, Savage parks in front of a 1.8-megawatt turbine, and we walk to the heavy bolt-studded door at its base. Inside, he shows me the control box and the heavy cable that shunts electricity from the turbine into a network of buried wires. Savage peers up into the gloom of the tower. A ladder reaches up the wall, interrupted at regular intervals by semicircular platforms. “It looks like an easy climb, but people take about 30 minutes to reach the top the first time,” he says. “And when you climb on the roof of the nacelle, it’s very impressive. There’s no fence; only a tube at your feet that’s used for the safety lines. When you’re on top, you see everything.”

Murdochville is one of several communities on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River that are betting on wind power to deliver clean energy and economic renewal, thanks to a recent decision by the Quebec government to develop a vast amount of green energy in the coming years. The move reveals a strategic insight that some European nations have long understood: renewable power and local economic development are mutually reinforcing goals.


It is an insight that has dawned late in much of Canada, which has lagged well behind many other developed countries when it comes to promoting one of the cleanest of all energy forms. Yet in the past five years, some provincial policy-makers have begun to realize that wind could do for Canada’s 21st century what hydro did for its 20th: marshal an immense resource in this rugged, windswept country.

On paper, the growth has been substantial. In 1998, Canada had 26 megawatts of wind-power capacity; a decade later, that figure is more than 2,500 megawatts. “It’s gone from being a niche market to the mainstream, and no one can keep up with demand,” says Keith Stewart, an energy analyst with World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Still, Denmark, Germany and Spain are a decade ahead of us. South of the border, President Barack Obama has signalled that he wants to see significant investments in wind and solar. In 2008, American wind producers were building at a breakneck pace, with more than 8,500 megawatts added.

In Canada, by sharp contrast, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government last winter decided not to renew the successful ecoENERGY for Renewable Power Program that could have helped spur further investment at a time when wind farm developers are scrambling to deal with uncertainty and difficult borrowing conditions due to the recession. The program helped finance 4,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity in the two years of its existence.

In the face of such ambitious goals, Canadian governments remain cautious about the potential of wind energy and have failed to learn some of the lessons that drove the stunning expansion of the local wind co-op movement in parts of Germany over the past 15 years. The wind industry in Canada, as in the United States, has come to be dominated by corporate developers, many of whom have erected turbines in rural areas without properly involving residents. What’s more, most provinces haven’t grasped what the Danish realized back in the early 1990s: wind isn’t just about green energy; it is also about creating the green-collar jobs of the future.


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Comments on this articleView all comments (18) | Leave a comment

"Wind energy can help to decrease the carbon dioxide level in the earth's atmosphere to below 350 parts per million. We must support wind energy the alternative is unacceptable.

Submitted by Paula Walker on Wednesday, June 10, 2009"

In the long run, coal and fossil fuel plants produce cleaner energy than green ever will.

Submitted by Graham on Thursday, May 30, 2013

Having worked with alternative energy and fossil fuels the conclusion is we are better off with both. There are increased costs for backup generation, however these are offset because there is a requirement for reserve capacity to maintain reliability of the system. While backup generation is often fueled by fossel fuels, these plants do not run when the wind is blowing thus reducing overall emissions. There are health concerns with wind power but they are less damaging than those associated with fossil fuels. Wind turbines do ruin the landscape and I would not put them in an area where it would ruin the landscape and tourism would suffer. Often overlooked is the comparison of fuel savings from energy efficiency that each homeowner can do to offset their energy footprint. We can all look to the problems caused by power generation but we often forget that these are a result of our consumer demand for more power. We can all be part of the solution.

Submitted by Edward Gasior on Wednesday, September 9, 2009

After researching extensively on coal, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind energy, the only two that stand out of the five is solar and wind. Both are so simple, capturing sunlight and having blades spinning in the wind. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes the better things in life are the simplest. With a life expectancy of 30-45 years for both solar and wind, this is far better than mining coal and uranium. It makes no sense: digging holes in the earth to get oil, coal and uranium for energy, or having a wind turbine spinning with the wind and solar panels following the sun for energy. I’ve see many large wind turbines during my investigation, and love the soft noise they make, however standing only 20 feet from can’t hear a thing. Also: most large turbines take up 4 ft of space in a field, which in turn powers 600 homes and can easy plant crop right up to the base. I know which route I’m going — the easy and reliable way.

Submitted by Tristan Alexis on Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I am developing a sound insulated home wind turbine power conversion system. Of course it will only work on about 10% of the homes in a community at one time. However during the time those 10% are working they will produce power for 4-8 additional homes. The end result is that if that 10% are tied into the grid they can provide electricity for up to 90% of the homes in that community. Plus there is no need for billions to build new distribution lines, access roads, etc. This is no pipe dream this is the beginning of the end to global warming.
Sam Rotor

Submitted by Sam Rotor on Monday, August 3, 2009

i live on Ontario's Oak ridge the wind usually blows strong up here though throughout June of this year June 1-21 2009 we have only had two days of sustained windspeed of plus 15km per hour for at least 18 hours straight. the other 19 days the minimum 15km wind speed hasn't been maintained for a single hour. Where do people get off saying there is no need for backup generation? You have a lot of expensive generators sitting idle as a stark testament to environmental "ignorance"

Submitted by Theo Lichacz on Sunday, June 21, 2009

Re M.Anderson. Wind power does not require 100% fossil fuel backup. All power generators require "backup", it is called contigency and spinning or regulating reserves. Reserves are usually sourced through hydro which ramps up and down rapidly. This is one of the lies perpetrated by wind opponents. The amount of reserves required is dictated by your largest baseload generator. I guess nuclear power needs "backup" as well

Submitted by D.Morley on Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wind power is the great smoke and mirror hoax of the new century. Billions are being wasted on this fairy-tale symbol. Wind needs to be backed up by fossil fuel 100% of the time. So in the end you need to pay for both. Sadly, until thousands and thousands of hectares of land are filled with these rusting industrial machines will people wake up from their green "dream" and realize what a waste it was.

Submitted by M Anderson on Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wind energy can help to decrease the carbon dioxide level in the earth's atmosphere to below 350 parts per million. We must support wind energy the alternative is unacceptable.

Submitted by Paula Walker on Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You state that Ontario will need to build 2000 kilometers of transmission corridors in order to bring privately owned Green Power to the market. While Wind Turbine land owners are willing sellers and are compensated for hosting wind turbines, the same cannot be said about home and landowners along these 2000 Kilometers whose land is expropriated by Hydro One Networks so that privately operated green power companies can get their product to the Golden Horseshoe market.

We are not NIMBY’s. Our family and our neighbours have hosted 2 major power corridors since 1965 and we are about to get our third line. Hydro One will now control over 20% of our property and Hydro One believes that there is very little financial damage to our property. We do not agree with their assessment.

Since March of 2007 we have had to put our lives on hold as we cannot sell land that in the words of professional appraisers is “condemned”. As home and landowners we have been forced to invest thousands of dollars in time and costs to meet with lawyers, land agents, and Hydro One bureaucrats all of whom are paid by the Ontario taxpayer.

Cabinet Ministers refuse to talk or meet with us and it appears to the 400 landowners from Bruce to Milton that we are orphans in the system. While we support Green and renewable power we are being forced to subsidize it’s the Ontario electrical consumer.

Dennis Threndyle

RR# 1 Elmwood, Ontario

Submitted by Dennis Threndyle on Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I just drove past a wind farm in upstate New York and reflected on the condemnation of such installations. The purported negative impact on the rural aesthetics that drive tourism in different areas clearly exemplifies the fever pitch at which the anti-wind camps operate. If the emotional energy generated by human resistance to change could be tapped into, we might not need any other supply sources.

Submitted by Renia Tyminski on Tuesday, June 9, 2009

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