Today’s wind turbines are being built with a 20-year lifespan – but what happens after that?
This was one of the many questions posed to Jody Law, Pattern Energy project developer of the 124-wind turbine South Kent Wind Energy Project. Law gave an overview of the 270-megawatt project, a partnership between Pattern Energy and Samsung, on Tuesday during Chatham Rotary Club’s annual rural-urban meeting, held at the farm of Jeff and Jennifer Wilson, near Charing Cross.
“A lot of things could happen,” Law told Rotarians of what the next 20 years holds for the project.
He said the turbines, to be erected between Tilbury and Ridgetown, south of Highway 401, could end up being decommissioned after two decades.
“Of course, we don’t want to do that,” he said, adding the plans could change if there are technological advances that improve efficiency.
“It really depends on the economy at the time and what the technology looks like,” Law said.
The Ontario Power Authority signs 20-year power purchase agreements with wind developers as part of the deal to have them build turbines in the province.
One of the criticisms of wind energy is that it can’t be stored.
Law said the ability to store the power is still being worked on.
However, he noted one area where there has been improvement is the ability to predict winds.
“We know very well when the high winds and low winds are,” he said.
Law said this allows for the power system to be adjusted drawing more electricity during times of high winds.
Also, he was asked why some turbines are operating and others nearby are not.
Perhaps, Law said, the turbine could be shut down for maintenance, or there may not be enough wind at the time.
He said the South Kent Wind Farm will be operated from a control centre in Houston, Texas. He said, for example, the control centre has the capability to determine if a turbine blade is unbalanced by ice can turn it off remotely.
Another concern about turbines is the bright, red lights that flash during the night.
Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman, who earlier this year made a motion to have laser-activated lights installed on existing turbines and new wind turbines, asked Law if the company would be doing anything to prevent the natural night sky from being ruined by these lights.
“We’re committed to finding a solution,” Law said, adding the lights are a requirement by Nav Canada and Transport Canada for the safety of aircraft.
When asked if laser-activated lights, which operate by radar, would be installed, Law said that would be difficult, as the turbines are spread widely apart.
However, he said, there are cones that can shield the night safety lights from shining down on the ground, but still be seen by aircraft.
Chatham-Kent chief administrative officer Don Shropshire, who is also a Rotarian, said wind turbines have been a controversial issue in Chatham-Kent. In thanking Law for being guest speaker, he praised Pattern Energy for being willing to come to public forums and be open to answering questions.
Construction is expected to begin on the South Kent Wind Farm by the end of the year. However, two groups are appealing the project, with hearings scheduled later this month before the Environmental Review Tribunal.
Law said the project will be moving forward, but noted the company will be paying a lot of attention to the hearings.