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Burlington council spins its way out of windmill project

Burlington city council made a unanimous decision Monday to pull the plug on the installation of a wind turbine for the Brant Street pier.

The primary reason that short-circuited the project: money. The transformer station near the pier that supplies juice to the downtown area would need to be reconfigured to accept the turbine’s surplus power. To do that, the city would need to spend at least $70,000 to capture the energy in battery packs.

And it would take 53 years for the city to break even on their investment, with power from the wind turbine only saving about $3,200 a year.

Councillor Marianne Meed Ward supported the cancellation of the wind turbine, which was originally launched as a demonstration project in 2006 to support green energy.

“It didn’t make economic sense,” says Meed Ward. “We always have to be looking for the best ways to get green and if we’re going to spend that kind of a financial investment, I want to see it go toward something that can deliver.”

As director of engineering and the lead for the project management team in charge of the Brant Street pier, Tom Eichenbaum is responsible for providing council with updates.

“We explored many possible ways of dealing with this, but they (Burlington Hydro staff) advised to reconfigure and that would be feasible but very expensive,” said Eichenbaum.

Some community members were unaware there was a wind turbine planned for the pier, let alone that there would be a vote to axe the proposal.

Amy Schnurr, executive director of BurlingtonGreen, says she was left out of the loop, but happened to stumble on a webcast of the meeting about the cancellation of the turbine. Not only was she disappointed with the decision, she says it sends a conflicting message to residents.

“On the one hand, the city is doing a great job at identifying a strategic plan that they want to advance renewable energy. Then on the other hand, it sends the message that maybe Burlington isn’t open to this kind of technology in their community,” said Schnurr.

The wind turbine itself hadn’t been purchased from the current pier contractor, which saved Burlington more than $100,000. However, a turbine was purchased from the original contractor and is in storage due to an ongoing legal dispute.

Burlington’s mayor, Rick Goldring, says cancelling the turbine is the best option for the city.

“I thought the turbine was a good idea, but I think when we look back, this particular project was approved six years ago. And when we look at the fact that the wind turbine wasn’t going to create a whole bunch of electricity for the city, it made sense to let it go,” he said.