March 13, 2012

Waterloo pursues a windmill — despite low wind

By Jeff Outhit, Record staff, 12 March 2012

WATERLOO – Waterloo council is spending almost $90,000 to consider generating electricity by wind, even though the wind hardly blows enough.

The proposed turbine would top a 20-metre pole beside the RIM Park recreation complex. A study that cost city hall $25,000 suggests it would be three times less efficient than the average Ontario wind turbine.

This is because wind is “relatively low” in Waterloo, the study found. It’s considered too low and uneven to support a commercial wind farm.

“In the wintertime, we have a very high resource of wind,” project manager Prasad Samarakoon said. “In the summertime you don’t have much wind at all. To build a wind farm you need to have a continuous wind flow.”

A report last fall to council states: “The results of the wind data analysis were mixed.”

Politicians are not dissuaded. In January, council secured $63,700 in federal government funding for a feasibility study on integrating wind into the electricity grid. A news release states: “The findings of the data collection and analysis are encouraging.”

If erected, the small city turbine would require provincial subsidies for renewable energy to achieve a return on investment, a city report states.

Samarakoon figures the wind is strong enough to power a small turbine he estimates at $5,000 to install. It would be part of a “green lab” at the soccer complex next to the recreation building. It would integrate wind and solar energy with a system that irrigates natural soccer fields in part by recycling runoff from artificial turf.

The turbine could pay for itself within a decade even without provincial subsidies, Samarakoon said.

There’s increasing controversy over subsidies offered by the Liberal government to develop renewable energy.

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter took aim at them in his December report, pointing out that wind and solar power will “add significant additional costs” to electricity bills and are less reliable than traditional electricity generation.

Economist Don Drummond followed up in his report on Ontario finances, recommending the province reduce subsidies over time to “discourage any reliance on public subsidies” and limit the impact on electricity prices.

The province is reconsidering high solar subsidies. Waterloo regional government has responded by stalling part of its plan to mount solar panels on roofs, concerned about losing almost $2 million or more in anticipated profits.

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