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The Saskatoon scene: $5-Mil for warm fuzzies

There’s been much hot air blowing lately in Saskatoon, generated by all the talk over the City’s proposed $5-million plan to install a wind turbine at the Saskatoon landfill. The 400-ft high fan is one of three renewable energy projects that is anticipated to make up a ‘Green Energy Park’, slated to be located at the garbage dump in the southwest corner of the city.

Just adjacent to the turbine’s anticipated new home lies the neighborhood of Montgomery, whose residents are not impressed with the idea. In fact, a group of residents have formed ‘The Saskatoon Wind Turbine Coalition’ in order to attempt to persuade City Council to grind the project to a halt, preferably indefinitely, alleging everything from the health to the economic pitfalls.

The project appears to be the brainchild of city utility Saskatoon Light & Power’s Alternative Energy Engineer, Kevin Hudson. Hudson’s role would present an immediate challenge, given that Saskatoon Light & Power doesn’t actually generate energy, dirty or not, it simply purchases it from SaskPower and brokers it to city residents. Hudson has clearly done his job, however, engineering possible alternative sources of energy with this new initiative. He’s also been unapologetic about his project proceeding, having stated that it’s jumped through all the approval hoops and is fully funded so out of the way, here it comes.

Funded indeed – by you, to the tune of $5-million. Half of that will come from the federal government’s Provincial-Territorial Base Fund, established in 2007 to provide each province and territory with $25 million per year, over seven years, for “priority infrastructure projects that contribute to long-term economic growth, a clean environment, and strong communities”, according to the fund’s web page. The other $2.5-mil will presumably come from the city’s coffers – something doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when we’re scrabbling to find the money to fund things like roads and cops. The return on the taxpayer’s investment? Enough electricity to power a whopping 500 homes, and an anticipated revenue-profit starting nine years after the thing starts blowing (some reports indicate that wind turbines only have a shelf life of ten years).

The City may have had determined in advance that this giant landmark wasn’t going to be constructed without some pushback from citizens. There are currently wind turbine projects being fought against by citizens in various locations across the United Kingdom, Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and at least two different towns in Ontario, to name a few.

The wind turbine project is classified as a 2 on a scale of 1-7 – “marginal” for supporting wind power generation, and one step above pointless. The other required reports aren’t exactly glowing either. One predicts potential bird and bat carnage thanks to the turbine’s massive, mincing blades; a recommendation to mitigate the potential massacre is to shut the fan down overnight. I’m no math whiz, but wouldn’t that reduce the output by half?

By far the most telling statement from the City of Saskatoon on the benefits of the wind turbine is this one: “(The turbine) provides a visible benefit for local residences and businesses wishing to participate in a program to reduce their environmental footprint.” Yes, local environmentalists can look at the wind turbine and feel good about themselves. Can you imagine any other cause that would warrant $5-million in spending for warm fuzzies?

The out-of-the-box thinking is admirable, and two out of the three initiatives for Saskatoon’s Green Energy Box could be viable. The wind turbine, however, does not appear to be one of them.