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Wind power on Sable Island still delayed

The Sable Island wind turbine project has cost taxpayers at least $1 million so far, but that green power is still years away from working, CBC News has learned.

The turbine blades are spinning, but they’re not powering anything.

In 2002, the first components of the wind farm were delivered to the Island – 300 kilometres east of mainland Nova Scotia.

The project was estimated to cost taxpayers $600,000. Ottawa has spent at least $1 million.

Officials estimate it will cost another $660,000 to refurbish or replace what is now aging or obsolete equipment.

It took years to assemble, secure and properly connect the five towers that now hold the wind turbines.

In the summer of 2005, just after the turbines were hooked up and generating power, a piece of equipment called the inverter malfunctioned.

Environment Canada said in an email to CBC News that “during commissioning, it was discovered that a manufacturing defect —improper software – resulted in improper currents, and some transistors were damaged.”

Even though the damaged equipment was replaced and the proper software installed not long after the test, the system remains offline.

“Although the wind turbines are generating electricity … other improvements are needed to create a system that effectively uses the electrical power generated by the turbines,” said Environment Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson.

Environment Canada said it has completed an assessment of the entire system to determine whether any of it needs replacement.
Wear and tear

Even though the system hasn’t worked properly, some of the components have been on the Island for a decade, so there is some wear and tear to the equipment.

There have also been technological improvements during the last 10 years and Environment Canada wants to take advantage of those, so there are plans to upgrade the turbines.

Currently, diesel generators power the weather office that’s staffed year-round, along with a couple of lighthouses and staff quarters.

Concerns about migrating birds flying into the blades or colliding with the towers or guy wires also delayed the project.

“As with most pilot projects, we have worked through some issues, including the remote location of Sable Island and the associated challenging weather conditions, sensitive species and the precious ecosystems of the island, and working with new and complex technologies,” said Johnson.

“Refurbishing and upgrading the wind turbines and the related infrastructure on Sable Island is a complex, multi-year project which includes a number of individual technical assessments, designs and construction packages.”

Sable Island is suitable for generating wind power, with long-term Environment Canada weather records indicating that the annual average wind speed is 25 kilometres per hour with gusts as high as 174 km/h.

The hope is the upgraded system can be switched on by 2013.