Ontario’s green energy revolution started with a single turbine

Green Revolution

September 10, 2012

EDMONTON, AB, Sep 10, 2012/ Troy Media/ – What seemed like a wacky idea at the time – building a 600 kilowatt wind turbine right in the heart of Toronto Ontario –  turned out to be the butterfly that flapped its wings and caused a storm of renewable energy development in Ontario.

Twelve years ago the TREC Renewable Energy Cooperative formed with a simple idea – build a highly visible urban wind turbine – and it ended with the most robust renewable energy regime in North America.

Deb Doncaster is currently the executive director of the Community Power Fund and former executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. She was involved with TREC almost from the beginning.

‘At that point in time we hadn’t envisioned a feed-in tariff program, we hadn’t envisioned a Green Energy Act for Ontario, it was really let’s just introduce windmills and let’s introduce the notion of community ownership,’ she recalls.

green energy
Deb Doncaster is the executive director of the Community Power Fund, the former executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association and was involved with TREC Renewable Energy Cooperative early on. Photo David Dodge, Troy Media

It wasn’t easy. Multiple sites were considered and not everyone in the community was excited about the project but, in 2002, Exhibition Place was identified as a viable location. Within four months the project, dubbed WindShare, had 427 pioneer members who had invested an average amount of $2,000 each in support of the turbine. On the second day of construction, WindShare membership rolls were full and the $800,000 capital investment target had been reached.

At the time, there was less than one megawatt of wind energy capacity in Ontario. Today, Ontario has 1,969 megawatts of wind energy capacity – the most of any province in Canada.

It wasn’t just the first urban wind turbine in North America, it was also the first for-profit cooperatively-owned wind turbine in Canada. It was a model that the Peace Energy Cooperative later followed with the development of Bear Mountain Wind Park in northern British Columbia.

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‘It was built at a time when wind energy was not really on anyone’s radar in Canada’ said Judith Lipp, current executive director of TREC. ‘The folks that formed TREC really wanted a site that would act as a demonstration, an icon if you will, for the green energy movement.’

Judith Lipp, the current executive director of TREC Renewable Energy Cooperative, the organization that started WindShare and got the Toronto wind turbine built 10 years ago. Photo David Dodge, Troy Media

And what an icon. Visible from Lakeshore Boulevard and the always-busy Gardiner Expressway, hundreds of thousands of commuters see the turbine every day. When I stopped for refreshments at a Queen Street hotel there was the turbine visible through the window more than a kilometre away.

Disciples of TREC and the idea of the first-ever urban wind turbine went on to form TREC Education – The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, The Community Power Fund, SolarShare, even played a significant role in creating Ontario’s Green Energy Act, the German-inspired feed-in tariff that led to thousands of wind, solar, hydro and biofuels projects being developed in Ontario.

According to Paul Gipe the feed-in-tariff policy has been responsible for most of the renewable energy developed in the world.

A feed-in tariff is an obligation built into the price of electricity so that the price of everyone’s electricity goes up a little bit while renewable energy gets established. While you might get $0.08 per kWh for the extra solar electricity you produce in Alberta for example, you would get $0.80 per kWh for a first generation microFIT contract and $0.55/kWh for a second generation FIT contract in Ontario.

In December of 2012, the Exhibition Place wind turbine will celebrate its 10th year of operation. In those 10 years, renewable energy growth has exploded in Ontario.

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Since the passing of the Green Energy Act in February of 2009 the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) reports indicate almost 50,000 Ontario individuals, businesses and community and aboriginal groups have applied for FIT contracts to build renewable energy projects.

The Ontario Power Authority has entered into more than 13,000 microFIT project contracts and almost 2,000 FIT contracts to build 4,662 megawatts of renewable power projects. These solar, wind, bioenergy and hydro projects are big and small and sprinkled all over Ontario.

Change that comes this fast is not without controversy, but what’s often lost in the stories about controversy is the simple fact that Ontario has engaged thousands of citizens as well as small, medium and and large businesses in building out the next generation of energy infrastructure.

Walking through Exhibition Park with Deb Doncaster in the shadow of the turbine, it seems pretty clear this large urban wind turbine that former Toronto Mayor David Miller once took to Copenhagen as a symbol of a solution to climate change has settled in as striking element of the brand of Canada’s largest city, second only to the skyscraping CN Tower.

Troy Media columnist David Dodge is the host and producer of Green Energy Futures, a multi-media series presented at www.greenenergyfutures.ca. The series is supported by TD, Suncor Energy and the Pembina Institute.

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3 Responses to "Ontario’s green energy revolution started with a single turbine"

  1. allanl   September 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Wow, talk about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses. As Tom Adams mentions, the performance of the Windshare turbine is so bad the numbers are no longer publically available. The turbine itself was long ago obsolete and is often broken down for long periods of time.
     
    The “revolution” it spawned described in the article is not seen as such here in rural Ontario, it is a hostile occupation. There is no other community owned project, just massive corporate installations, with much larger machines, either owned by foreign interests or large oil companies. Lax siting regulations both before and after the draconian and hated Green Energy Act, heavily favouring the wind developers, has resulted in unwilling host communities being torn apart. Many families have also been forced from their homes due to the cumulative effects of months of sleep depravation. Many bought out by the wind companies themselves and forced to sign gag orders to prevent them from telling their stories beyond the kitchen table.
     
    And for what? An intermittent trickle of electricity that will have no measureable impact on C02 emissions. A feel good exercise for the Windhare folks in Toronto, but a nightmare for us in rural Ontario…

  2. tomadamsenergy   September 10, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Notice that TREC once disclosed monthly production figures for the CNE turbine. TREC no longer discloses that information. TREC has never made is costs and revenues public. TREC’s secrecy is consistent with the large amounts of public funding for educational purposes it receives.

  3. tonobungay   September 10, 2012 at 8:55 am

    There are a couple of other differences between Alberta (probably Enmax) netmetering and Ontario microFiT.  In Alberta, a lot of the costs for metering and connection and so forth are paid for by the utility and government.  In Ontario, the small producer (you) have to pay all the utility’s costs up front, in Alberta the utility absorbs then.  Alberta provides financing funded by the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), Ontario offers no financing.  Alberta waives distribution charges (up to 60% of electricity cost in Ontario) from the electricity you consume yourself, Ontario does not. Ontario requires at least 60% Ontario content, Alberta does not. In Alberta the rates are tied to electricity rates, which go up to 15 cents recently, and will keep going up; in Ontario, the rate you get paid is fixed but the rate you pay is not.  In Ontario you are paid promptly every month, in Alberta payment can take a year. Finally this comparison is just for small rooftop installations that generate less than what you consume.  In Alberta, the rate stays the same no matter how much you produce, but there is a limit; in Ontario if you produce more your rate goes down. There are 500 participating households in Alberta and 15,000 in Ontario so far.