• A crane installs a rotor on a wind turbine generator near Carleton in Quebec’s Gaspé region. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • The wind farm at L’Anse-à-Valleau, Que., in operation since November 2007, has 67 turbines that produce 100.5 megawatts of power. One megawatt is a measure of energy conversion equal to one million watts per second. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • Seventy-three turbines are arrayed close to hydroelectric transmission lines above the shoreline at Baie-des-Sables, Que. The blades turn at 10 to 20 revolutions per minute. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • Installing wind turbines near Carleton, Que., is an industrial-scale operation. Workers get ready to hoist a rotor with 40-metre blades into position.(Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • The landmark Catholic church at Saint-Maurice-de-l’Échouerie, Que., is a short drive along the St. Lawrence River from the wind farm at L’Anse-à-Valleau. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • Three fibreglass blades are produced a day at the plant in Gaspé. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

  • Installing wind turbines near Carleton, Que., is an industrial-scale operation. While one worker crawls inside to prepare a tower section, others get ready to hoist a rotor with 40-metre blades into position. (Photo: Benoit Aquin)

With photography by

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.

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.

Nestled in moose country in the Gaspé’s undulating, forested interior, Murdochville can be seen as a symbol of Canada’s faltering industrial past and Quebec’s renewableenergy future. By 2002, the town’s economic raison d’être — mining — had vanished and its population had fallen from a peak of 4,000 to about 1,200. With real estate values collapsing (houses sold for, on average, $15,000), no other significant sources of employment and young families fleeing, Mayor Marc Minville proposed a referendum on Murdochville’s future.

In an election that received international media coverage, 65 percent of residents voted to disband the town and ask the provincial government to buy up their homes so that they could relocate. It had been a tense and divisive debate, for there were many residents who loved the isolated community that functioned like a big family.

“There were people who weren’t talking to their neighbours,” says Francine Chouillard, who heads the town’s tourism board. “Even people within families weren’t talking to one another.”

Map: Steven Fick/Canadian Geographic

Around the same time, executives with 3Ci had been scouting for places to build a wind farm and came across Murdochville in their research. “We were sniffing the wind,” says 3Ci president Robert Vincent. Despite its existential turmoil, the mining town had many things that were attractive from a wind developer’s point of view: gusty mountaintops, contractors, a good highway to the coast and, most significantly, a heavy-duty electricity-transmission corridor — the mine’s energy lifeline — linked to Hydro-Québec’s grid. While building the Mont Miller wind farm, 3Ci also installed 30 turbines on Mont Copper, which overlooks Murdochville’s impressive mine face.

Nor was 3Ci the only company with its finger in the air. Innergex Renewable Energy, a Longueuil-based small hydro developer established in 1990, had also dispatched wind-surveying consultants to the Gaspé, as well as to the St. Lawrence’s North Shore.

“When it became more and more probable that Quebec would develop wind energy,” says Innergex founder Gilles Lefrançois, “we started installing meteorological towers in early 1999 to find good places for wind farms.”

Emboldened by the spadework, the citizens of Gaspésie petitioned the Quebec government to transform the region into a kind of wind-energy laboratory. With Georges Farrah, Gaspé’s Member of the Legislative Assembly, calling for an economic diversification strategy, provincial officials overruled the results of the Murdochville referendum. The town’s future, the government decided, lay with the wind.

In fact, Quebec has set its target for wind energy at 4,000 megawatts. And Murdochville isn’t the only town banking on a wind-driven revival. In the hills outside L’Anse-à-Valleau, a struggling fishing village near the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, Cartier Wind Energy has built a 67-turbine farm. The $164 million facility, one of six built or planned in the Gaspé by Cartier, generates 100.5 megawatts of power and has brought new jobs and tax revenue to the community.

“When all this is built out in 2015, wind will have reached 10 percent of Hydro-Québec’s capacity,” says Lefrançois. And he doesn’t think the province will stop there. “After we reach 4,000 megawatts, I’m sure we’ll go to 8,000.” To get there, the government is inviting bids from wind developers, then selecting the best ones. The sucessful bidders sign agreements which guarantee that Hydro-Québec will purchase their energy for 20 years. Cartier came away the biggest winner in the Gaspé, with six proposed farms and a combined generating capacity of 740 megawatts. It is a $1.2 billion venture, now half built.

For its part, 3Ci teamed up with a large Ontario energy firm, Northland Power. Completing a third wind farm in Murdochville, 3Ci has sold its share in one of the two others to an American company and is planning a new 156-megawatt farm northwest of Québec. The formula is similar to what brought 3Ci to Murdochville: a windy spot, a nearby community and access to the grid. Cartier, a much larger outfit, is also gearing up for the next tranche of wind bids, with 10 new farms on its radar. The stakes are large, but 3Ci’s Vincent says his firm has to be selective. “We’re a very small team, very focused. We can’t afford to chase every opportunity in the market.”

Quebec wasn’t the first province with wind farms. That honour belongs to Alberta, where the earliest large-scale projects were built on the steppes south of Calgary. Until last fall, Alberta had the largest portfolio of wind power of any Canadian province, with 524 megawatts. In 2007, provincial energy officials announced they were looking to add more capacity by lifting a 900-megawatt ceiling on wind energy. There are also new projects afoot in all parts of Canada, including British Columbia, which has so much clean and inexpensive hydroelectric generating capacity that its energy planners haven’t paid much attention to other alternative renewables.

With more than 950 megawatts, Ontario now claims to be Canada’s wind leader, and provincial politicians insist they view this type of energy as a major component of their long-term strategy to wean the province of its reliance on coal-fired generating plants (all scheduled to close in 2014). In January, however, a coalition of environmental groups upped the ante by launching a campaign to push the province to accelerate its plans. They persuaded the provincial government to adopt a green-energy act that lays out ambitious conservation and renewableenergy targets and establishes clear rules for community ownership and green procurement.

The emerging Ontario wind sector has been driven forward in recent years by energy firms such as Canadian Hydro Developers, EPCOR Utilities and Enbridge (the natural-gas giant). SkyPower, a Toronto green-power firm with Bay Street backers, has been erecting large installations in eastern Ontario and on the shores of Lake Ontario, and many more are in the works.

“Our plan contemplated a significant ramp-up of wind-energy resources in Ontario,” says Amir Shalaby, vicepresident of power system planning for the Ontario Power Authority, the agency responsible for mapping out future energy investment. By 2025, he adds, “15 percent of Ontario’s energy will come from wind.”

At the moment, however, wind accounts for just one percent of Ontario’s power mix. The mid-term target is about 5,000 megawatts — a figure Keith Stewart of WWF Canada describes as “quite modest.” Shalaby admits such numbers have proven to be highly subject to change as the political winds shift. Lefrançois also expects to see Quebec push its own goals much higher in coming years. After all, the government has already had to reject many viable wind-farm proposals because it reached its latest target level so quickly.

How much wind can realistically be developed? Stewart points to a recent U.S. Department of Energy study which concluded that with technological improvements to turbine design, it would be possible to source one-fifth of all electricity consumed in the United States from wind farms, a dramatic transformation that would add less than 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour to average electricity rates. “That’s not an outrageous cost,” he says.

Yet energy planners such as Shalaby say it is not just about the unit cost of wind energy. They must grapple with two other issues: whether a windy area is close to a transmission corridor and the vexing problem of intermittency. Quebec’s approach has been to locate wind farms near defunct industrial sites along the St. Lawrence that still have good connections to the grid. Shalaby says that over the next 20 years, Ontario needs to build 2,000 kilometres of new transmission corridors, at a cost of $2 billion, to carry new sources of wind and hydro energy from Northern Ontario to the cities of the south. The cost will be split between consumers and producers.

Another issue with wind turbines is that they don’t generate power when it is too windy or not windy enough or when they require maintenance. When society’s craving for power is high — for example, on a sultry summer day — but the wind isn’t blowing, there’s a problem. To deal with the mismatch between supply and demand, energy planners rely on backup generating plants that can meet demand at a moment’s notice; these tend to be fuelled by coal or natural gas. Another part of the solution is to situate wind farms in diverse areas of the province.

“If there’s no wind in one region, there will be in another,” says Shalaby. “You get a better chance of having some of the fleet running all the time.”

Some wind-energy watchers suspect that Ontario has been hedging its wind-energy targets because the province is pressing ahead with massive plans to build new nuclear reactors — a closely watched, intensively lobbied energy strategy that will cost $27 billion and is meant to refurbish or replace the aging Pickering reactors, east of Toronto, by 2027.

This contrasts with Quebec’s wind-energy game plan in one other important respect, which has to do with recognizing this fast-growing industry as a means of generating both power and jobs. Quebec has decreed that when 1,000 megawatts of capacity is reached, new wind farms must source at least 60 percent of their parts and labour within the province; half of that must come from the region where the farms are situated. Simultaneously, Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles à Gaspé, a community college, began training wind-turbine technicians. A wind-energy applied research facility was also established in Murdochville, a venture that was to be costshared with Ottawa, until the Conservative government abruptly cancelled its share of the funding in 2008.

Meanwhile, in the regional centres of Matane and Ville de Gaspé, multinational turbine manufacturers have established factories to supply Quebec’s wind operators. In Matane, General Electric has set up a facility to build nacelles. In Gaspé, the Danish wind giant LM Glasfiber built a 9,300-square-metre plant that turns out blades at the pace of three a day. The company approached Martin Couture, an accountant who was running a fibreglassboat manufacturing business, to oversee the operation. A Quebecer then living in Grand-Mère, Que., the energetic Couture leapt at the opportunity. “You could really set it up and give the company its soul,” he says.

Standing outside the sprawling plant next to a row of completed blades that look surprisingly like beached whales, Couture pats the enormous objects affectionately, pointing out little features such as a noise-reducing zigzag strip and small fins to lessen drag. He also explains how LM’s blades bend slightly, allowing them to flex backward in high winds and thus improve their efficiency. (Couture recently left the company.) These days, the plant is cranking them out as fast as it can. LM initially expected to hire, at most, 140 people to run the plant, but there are now 300 employees. Some of its made-in-Quebec blades have been exported to Brazil and the northeastern United States, and the orders are pouring in as Quebec keeps boosting its wind targets. The strategy is smart for a host of reasons, not least that it has allowed Quebec-based wind developers to move quickly to complete their projects.

With its new green-energy law, Ontario finally moved to emulate Quebec in using its wind policy to help stimulate economic activity, something that should come as welcome relief in the province’s decimated manufacturing sector. “We could source our turbines locally,” says Stewart, “as opposed to getting in a queue behind the Europeans.”

Indeed, there is some indication that international wind-industry suppliers are looking to set up in Ontario. German turbine manufacturer Multibrid has announced plans to set up a turbine plant in eastern Ontario, creating a wind-energy manufacturing base to serve Ontario and the northeastern United States. By no coincidence, however, the firm belongs to France’s nuclear-power giant Areva, which has been trying to endear itself to Ontario energy officials in an attempt to supply the reactors due to be constructed at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, east of Toronto.

On Wolfe Island, in the St. Lawrence River a short ferry ride from Kingston, Ont., Peggy Smith and Sarah McDermott scan a pastoral landscape renowned for its birds as we gingerly navigate a battered SUV along a concession road. In the hayfields on either side of the road are clouds of swallows, red-winged blackbirds, upland sandpipers and short-eared owls. Twenty percent of the world’s bobolinks — a prairie songbird that makes a 20,000-kilometre annual migration — live here. A pair of ospreys have made an elaborate nest from sticks perched on top of an old telephone pole. The island is officially designated as an important birding area because many migratory species stage here, spending several weeks replenishing body fat to prepare themselves for the rest of their journey.

“If you look left, there will be five towers in here,” says Smith, a labour lawyer and long-time Wolfe Island resident, as she munches on an apple. “And there will be 30 over there, which is the most significant birding habitat on the island. On a typical day, we have raptors coming in and out of here.”

A little farther on, McDermott, a gardener who organizes the annual Wolfe Island MusicFest, gestures toward a hedgerow next to a fallow field leading to the shore. “It’s really hard to imagine that we’ll have 20 turbines in front of us.”

“More than that,” replies Smith. “Thirty-one.”

Several years ago, some Wolfe Islanders signed on to a plan to build a modest wind farm, which would be owned cooperatively by the residents so that they could disconnect from the provincial grid. But after a series of complex transactions, some of which remain the subject of a lawsuit, Canadian Hydro Developers, a Calgary firm, took over the project and expanded it to 86 turbines, to be built on the island’s sleepy western’s pastures and run on a for-profit basis.

The enlarged version has not been embraced by all the community’s residents, although it has the support of the local council. McDermott and Smith have fought the venture at the Ontario Municipal Board and in the courts, arguing that it will harm sensitive birding habitats.

The criticisms touched a nerve. After McDermott’s partner, Chris Brown, wrote an article criticizing the project and the way it was approved, he received a cease-and-desist letter from the company’s lawyers. CEO John Keating dismisses the opponents as “a vocal minority,” saying, “The stakeholders had ample opportunity to comment.” The project has received regulatory and political approvals, and Keating’s company is absorbing the expense of burying the power lines connecting the turbines to the substation that links the wind farm to the transmission grid.

Nevertheless, the Wolfe Island wind farm has joined an expanding list of southern Ontario wind projects that have generated a growing backlash among some residents who balk at the presence of these highly visible, and sometimes noisy, facilities. The developers usually win these battles, but not always. Last October, for example, EPCOR (formerly the City of Edmonton’s power and water utility) abruptly cancelled plans for a 160-megawatt wind farm on the Lake Huron shore, the second phase of a development known as Kingsbridge. The company pulled the plug on the $300 million venture — which would have produced electricity for 45,000 homes — because of “uncertainty” resulting from regulatory delays and municipal opposition. (Ontario’s loss could be British Columbia’s gain: a month later, EPCOR announced a bid to build a 142-megawatt wind farm as part of that province’s clean-energy strategy.)

The reasons for the opposition vary, and they’re not all obstructionist. Kristopher Stevens, executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA), has scrutinized the causes behind the “social friction” whipped up by some wind projects. In many cases, the reasons trace back to rubber-stamp public consultations and the fact that residents don’t reap many rewards of their local natural resource.

Old-fashioned NIMBYism, however, remains an indisputable feature of wind politics. On the rocky, exclusive shores of Georgian Bay, affluent cottagers are up in arms about a proposal by the Wasauksing First Nation and SkyPower, the Toronto wind developer, to build a 40-megawatt farm on Parry Island, near Port Severn. The fight seems to be mainly about location and the view. Bob Duncanson, executive director of the Georgian Bay Association, claims that SkyPower will build “superhighways” on the island and suggests the band council doesn’t really know what it’s getting into. (Wasauksing officials didn’t return calls.)

Some cottagers have fretted publicly about falling property values. Duncanson, a witness to other anti-turbine fights, also frets about what will become of these structures when their 20-year life expectancy expires. He asserts that former gravel quarries have less impact on the scenery than do turbines.

“The pits are hidden,” says Duncanson. With a decommissioned wind farm, “you’re going to see the turbines in all their oozing, rusting glory.”

It seems unlikely that Duncanson’s Chicken Little scenarios will come to pass. But Eha Naylor, an Etobicoke, Ont., landscape architect who has advised municipalities on the visual impact of wind farms, says such reactions are not entirely unwarranted, especially when turbines are located in highly visible locations prized for their scenic heritage. The impact can be mitigated, she says, with vegetative screening, generous setbacks and even the use of muted colours on the turbines themselves, rather than the signature off-white of the towers and blades.

"The turbines are like elephants," says Naylor. "They loft slowly, and they have lights on the top. A lot of the fighting could be reduced if the upfront work could consider some of these issues. But municipalities are scrambling to react."

Noise tends to be a more serious and politically corrosive irritant. Some homeowners living near a pair of large Canadian Hydro Developers wind farms near Shelburne, Ont., a 90-minute drive northwest of Toronto, have complained of health problems due to the hum from substations and the whooshing sound of a turbine on or near their land. Several have moved away or persuaded the company to buy their properties, with the homeowners signing nondisclosure agreements.

They’re not alone. New York physician Nina Pierpont has identified a condition she calls Wind Turbine Syndrome, a collection of symptoms she says are triggered by lowfrequency noise. They include headaches, dizziness, nausea and sleep disruption that turned up among 38 individuals living within 1.5 kilometres of a wind farm in New York State. Other critics claim the cause is an inaudible infrasonic, or low-frequency, hum.

Wind-industry officials point out that Pierpont’s work has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. And, in a 2006 paper published in Canadian Acoustics, Geoff Leventhall, a British noise and vibration consultant, noted that there is a lot of misinformation about the nature of turbine noise. Still, he acknowledged that for some people, the fluctuating swishing sound of the blades may, indeed, cause discomfort and stress and should be addressed by policy-makers and turbine manufacturers.

The relationship between birds and turbines poses an equally complex dilemma, partly because it appears to pit one environmental good against another. With the earliest wind farms, naturalists worried about collisions between birds or bats and turbine blades. As the turbines have increased in size, the blades now turn more slowly, thus reducing the risk of direct impact. At L’Anse-à-Valleau, for example, only a handful of bird carcasses have been found since the farm went into operation in late 2007, according to Luc Leblanc, Cartier’s director of public affairs.

World Wildlife Fund Canada has no major objections to wind energy, a stance not shared by some other groups. For example, Bird Studies Canada, a national network of ornithologists, states that the rapid growth of wind farms has raised “legitimate concerns.” The group wants government agencies to monitor the impact on birds before and after construction, restrict wind farms from wetlands and migration corridors and minimize lighting. And because the federal government contributes modest grants to wind-energy projects, developers are obliged to go through a federal environmental assessment and thus pass muster with the Canadian Wildlife Service.

According to Acadia University biologist Phil Taylor, studies have shown that the proliferation of wind farms, especially in agricultural areas such as Wolfe Island, will further erode bird habitats, especially grasslands, as some species won’t breed or stage near large vertical objects. What is less clear is whether such dislocation will have a negative impact. Since the construction of the 99-megawatt Erie Shores Wind Farm, near the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve in southwestern Ontario, there is anecdotal evidence that the tundra swans which stage there have shifted their feeding area, says Taylor. But he admits it is not possible to say for certain whether that is because of the turbines or other causes.

When Sarah McDermott tried to raise the bird issues on Wolfe Island, however, she was labelled a NIMBY, much to her frustration. But she was also treated as a pariah by some of her neighbours. “We’ve felt many a scornful eye,” she says.

The reason McDermott and Smith have gotten the cold shoulder reveals one of the wellsprings of controversy associated with some wind farms. While many wind farms in Quebec are built on public land, most Ontario wind farms rely heavily on access to privately owned property — mainly farmland. The wind developers, having determined the economic windiness of a region, dispatch agents to sign leases with local landowners, who can expect an annual windfall of as much as $7,000 per turbine.

Such arrangements mean that some landowners benefit, while their immediate neighbours don’t — a recipe for resentment, says OSEA’s Stevens. Germany’s wind co-ops, by contrast, use “collective land leases” that allow residents or municipalities to buy shares in the development and share in the profits. “There’s a recognition that the community brings some stability and legitimacy to these projects,” he says.

In North America, however, the industrial model prevails, although OSEA and a few other groups are trying to promote the co-op approach. And there is clearly a cost to the industrial model.

“It’s fair to say there was a lot of vocal support for the wind project and a lot of vocal opposition,” says Smith. “But there’s a lot of silence too, and [the dispute] created divisions that haven’t healed.

Whatever the source of the objections, Ontario’s energy and infrastructure minister George Smitherman sent an explicit signal that in the province’s future, green energy trumps local sentiment. His new green-energy act, tabled in January, summarily stripped municipalities of the right to approve wind and solar farms, thus taking the NIMBYs out of the equation.

Over the next four years, the future of wind generation in Canada is expected to appear like a spectre in the waters of Lake Ontario, about 20 kilometres offshore from Prince Edward County — the site of a 710-megawatt wind farm being built by Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind Corporation. Unlike land-based wind farms, Trillium’s giant five-megawatt turbine towers will rise to more than 100 metres; each will be anchored to the bottom in water about 10 metres deep. Because the wind blows more consistently over water than over land, the turbines will produce about a third more power.

“Offshore is where land-based wind was 10 or 15 years ago,” says Keith Stewart. “There are good wind resources, and you don’t have to worry about the neighbours.”

There is nothing technically exceptional about erecting offshore turbines, according to Quebec-based wind-energy consulting firm Hélimax Energy. They are typically built in areas where the water is 5 to 15 metres deep. The techniques for sinking the foundations are borrowed directly from bridge and oil-rig-platform engineering: steel rods are rammed deep into the seabed, or precast concrete foundations are towed to the site and submerged.

Some Canadians have reacted to such plans with hostility, as was the case last winter when Toronto Hydro proposed a wind farm south of the Scarborough Bluffs, which overlook Lake Ontario. Residents bemoaned how the towers would wreck their view. Similar reactions greeted offshore wind farms proposed for Nantucket Island, in Massachusetts — some of them orchestrated by the Kennedy family.

But, by contrast, Denmark has lived comfortably with offshore wind farms since the early 1990s. In the past 15 years, in fact, the Danes have developed more than 1,300 megawatts of offshore farms, including Horns Rev I and II, located about 20 kilometres west of Jutland, which, when complete, will be the world’s largest facilities. One of the newest, a 48-turbine farm operated by the Scandinavian energy giant Vattenfall, is located in the narrow strait between Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden. Savvy to the long-term payoff from bold renewable-energy innovations, the Danish government plans to sharply boost its portfolio of offshore wind over the next 20 years.

The same is true on the west coast of the North Sea. In December 2008, energy officials in the United Kingdom laid the groundwork for a massive, multi-decade expansion of wind farms in the North Sea and the Thames River estuary. With the goal of developing 33,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2020, British officials are now vetting a “supply chain” proposal to require energy firms to source the components within the U.K. Such an economicdevelopment policy would create a substantial domestic green-manufacturing sector that would be called on to build and install as many as 7,000 turbines over the next dozen years. The economic value is in the tens of billions.

Back in Murdochville, as Frédéric Savage and I drive over the rocky access roads in the fog-shrouded mountains, such grand ambitions seem a very long way off — politically, economically, logistically. Savage and his colleagues are focused on a horizon that is closer to home - in his case, getting the town’s third wind farm up and running, while working the kinks out of the other two.

“The wind is very good for this area,” he muses as we pause at a bend to look out over the rugged, ethereal landscape. “It’s good to see an industry that can last for years.”

Additional resources:
Canadian Wind Energy Association
Global Wind Energy Council