MANITOULIN—While the wind-power debate on Manitoulin has so far centred, understandably, on land-based projects, there’s another type of turbine development in the offing.
That would be in both senses of the word, as offing can mean both a looming event and the watery horizon, or “the part of the sea that can be seen from land.”
Some of these water-based wind farms could take shape in the vicinity of Manitoulin. A document prepared in 2008 for the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), titled Analysis Of Future Offshore Wind Farm Development In Ontario, identifies several locations off the south coast of the Island, as well as a half-dozen in northern Georgian Bay, that could be exploited for power generation.
In all, the analysis found 64 sites across the Great Lakes that are deemed “conducive to offshore development,” and Lake Huron boasts the lion’s share. “The study found that the majority of the most promising sites are located in Lake Huron (including Georgian Bay),” reads the OPA document, with 27 locations pinpointed in this water body. Lake Erie is not far behind with 25. By contrast, only nine sites were identified in Lake Ontario and a mere three in Lake Superior.
Before any of these sites are developed, however, the province first has to implement a set of requirements for offshore facilities, which are considered Class 5 wind projects. That process is already under way, with a number of proposed rules announced in late June and posted at the province’s environmental registry for public commentary.
The most conspicuous (and contentious) of these regulations calls for turbines to be situated at least five kilometres from land. While that buffer—or “shoreline exclusion zone,” as it is termed in the proposal—isn’t quite as generous as is mandated elsewhere in the world (the Netherlands, for instance, demands that such projects be located 22 kilometres offshore), it would be “comparable with proposals by many US states that border the Great Lakes,” according to a release from the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).
In addition to establishing setbacks, a review of the current process for making Crown land available for offshore wind development is being undertaken by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). “This review will include consideration of where, when and how the government makes Crown land available,” according to the province.
Another proposed requirement is that turbine developers fulfill a detailed application process. “This would include addressing potential impacts to endangered and threatened species and their habitat, significant wildlife habitats, users of Crown land, flooding and erosion,” states the ministry release.
Since the 60-day period for public input was initiated on June 25, Islanders now have just two more weeks—the ultimate deadline being August 24—to submit comments on the proposal through the environmental registry.
Ray Beaudry, spokesperson for the Manitoulin Coalition for Safe Energy Alternatives (MCSEA), hopes many will take the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the issues surrounding this type of wind development and make their feelings known in the allotted time frame.
“Imagine what they would look like,” he said. “This is a prime vacation area for boaters; people come here for the water and landscape.”
While offshore wind projects are theoretically less obtrusive—and noisy—than their cousins on terra firma, Mr. Beaudry believes they are equally worrisome, for reasons both environmental and economical.
He pointed to a recent article in Ontario Out of Doors, an organ of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which expresses strong misgivings about the spread of turbines across the Great Lakes.
“Offshore turbines have been operational in Europe for years, but only in saltwater environments,” the article notes. It cites the concerns of Dr. Scott Petrie, executive director of Long Point Waterfowl, who feels research into the impact on freshwater bird species has been insufficient, and many types of ducks and geese could be disrupted by the presence of such large, churning machines.
“He’s not against wind power, but is wary of indiscriminate placement without regard for wildlife,” reads the Ontario Out of Doors story.
Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of citizen groups (including MCSEA) that opposes industrial turbines, lists over a dozen objections to offshore projects. These range from tainting of drinking water (from toxic sediments being stirred up) to potential maiming of anglers and snowmobilers (as ice is shed from the rotor blades).
The group also worries about liquid contaminants being released from the turbines in the event of a lightning strike, disruption of fish due to low-frequency noise, cormorants nesting atop the structures, and the visual blight they will make on the landscape—or waterscape, as it would more accurately be called in this case.
Mr. Beaudry noted that, even if the turbine grids envisioned for Lake Huron end up being dozens of kilometres from Manitoulin, the lights would likely still be visible. “We have a dark sky party,” he said, in reference to the Star Party event at Gordon’s Park this past weekend. “Imagine what the sky will look like with all these blinking red lights.”
The MCSEA member’s complaints aren’t primarily aesthetic in nature, however. His biggest gripe is that the technology doesn’t produce an efficient source of power and is being forced on Ontarians—who will end up paying for it on their hydro and tax bills—under the misleading rubric that wind power is good for the environment.
“Just because it’s green doesn’t mean it’s good,” he argued. “It doesn’t shut down fossil plants, because they need them for backup, and it’s not green, because there are too many impacts. And who’s paying for this? The taxpayers are, because it’s going to cost millions to put them in, and we’re subsidizing an inefficient source of generation.”
The McGuinty government obviously feels otherwise. Since 2003, renewable sources have accounted for enough energy “to power more than 300,000 homes, or a city the size of Windsor,” the province proudly reports. Offshore wind holds even greater potential as a substitute for dirty sources like coal, the province believes, and it can do so more effectively than its onshore relative.
“Compared to land-based wind, offshore wind has been found to have faster, more uniform wind currents for greater energy production,” notes the MOE release.
“Our priority is making sure renewable, clean energy sources are developed in a way that protects the environment,” assures Environment Minister John Gerretsen. “We look forward to hearing from the public and industry on the protective rules we are proposing.”
In his own submission to the environmental registry, Mr. Beaudry asserts that “there are alternatives” to the path being advanced by the province, citing “conservation programs, residential generation, and homes not so heavily reliant on the grid” as good places to start. “We should not be destroying everything that this province has to offer for such an unreliable source of generation,” he contends.
For those who wish to communicate their own thoughts on the province’s offshore wind plan, this can be done by visiting www.ebr.gov.on.ca and entering 011-0089 in the registry number field.
Public and industry consultation sessions are additionally planned for the fall, although dates and locations have not yet been determined.
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