Two years ago this month, with the 2011 election looming, the Ontario government imposed a moratorium on off-shore wind farms in the province to do “further scientific research.”
Which raises the question: The moratorium is still in effect; where’s the research? And did it give off-shore wind farms a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down?
The answers are murky and far from settled. The moratorium has triggered a $2.25 billion lawsuit from one wind power developer, and the issue remains a live one for the new Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Off-shore wind farms in the Great Lakes could be a prized asset, since winds over the lakes are often stronger and steadier than on land. But they bring fierce resistance – as a proposal to plant a string of turbines off the Scarborough Bluffs in 2008 showed.
Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has published three reports on the impact of off-shore wind farms since the moratorium began. One looked at the impact of turbines on coastlines, lakebeds, waves and other physical features.
Two others looked at the impact on fish and impact on fish
But the reports aren’t conclusive. The report on physical features, for example, outlines further research that might be needed.
One of the fish studies urges caution. “Owing to the lack of experience with offshore wind facilities in freshwater environments, the magnitude and significance of many of these potential effects to Great Lakes fish remain uncertain,” it says. It adds that there may be ways to reduce any impacts.
The ministry itself is drawing no conclusions. “We still need to gather more information on the potential effects of offshore wind development and possible mitigation measures for development in freshwater environments,” it said in a statement in answer to questions from the Toronto Star.
It added: “These three science reports are not government policy.”
The current status leaves no one satisfied.
Some thought that the moratorium was a way of quietly killing off-shore wind turbines without saying so. But Jane Davidson, who heads the anti-wind power group Wind Concerns Ontario, doesn’t believe it’s that simple. “I don’t think they’ve killed this, to be honest,” she said in an interview.
Government officials have been busy dealing with a rush of on-shore wind farm approvals, she said, and that has put off-shore in the background. “I don’t think it’s gone forever in any way,” she said.
Davidson believes that even if turbines are far from land, their noise will carry long distances over the water to shoreline communities.
Wind developers are also uncertain of what might happen.
One of the most interested is John Kourtoff, chief executive of Trillium Power. He was an hour away from signing a financing agreement for a wind development of 500 megawatts or more in Lake Ontario off Kingston when the moratorium was announced Feb. 11, 2011. (By comparison, the two main generating stations at Niagara Falls produce about 2,000 megawatts.)
Trillium launched a $2.25 billion lawsuit against the province. A court struck it down in October, but Trillium has appealed.
Kourtoff would prefer a policy change from the government to fighting it out in court. “There’s no need for the litigation,” he said.
He hopes Dalton McGuinty’s departure leaves an opening for discussion. “I think Kathleen Wynne brings a change and a breath of fresh air,” he said in an interview.
Robert Hornung, who heads the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said the province is reviewing its long term energy plan this year, and hopes off-shore wind farms can be part of the review.
“It would be our hope some of the research under way could be brought forward into that process.”
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