Wind turbine opponents on Amherst Island are taking a new tack in their five-year fight to block a large-scale energy project in their community, questioning the environmental fallout of the supposedly green technology.
The Association to Protect Amherst Island accuses the Ontario government of not having a plan to deal with the massive turbine blades, steel columns and cement bases that will have to be disposed of when the machines are eventually decommissioned.
“They’re in the midst of creating an enormous environmental disaster,” said Peter Large, spokesman for the Association to Protect Amherst Island.
Some of the first jurisdictions to approve large-scale turbine facilities, such as Germany, Denmark and California, began considering their environmental legacy several years ago, about the same time the Amherst Island project proposal for up to 37 turbines became known.
In 2009, 86 turbines went into operation on Wolfe Island.
The Amherst group has raised all the standard objections about how the project planned by Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. will damage the island environment, endanger wildlife and create health complications for people from turbine noise and “shadow flicker” from the turning blades.
Now they’re projecting into the future.
“The European experience is that they won’t let turbines go to the landfill,” said Large. “We believe there is a growing environmental problem in Ontario.”
A recent study commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage says that by 2034 there will be a need to dispose of 225,000 tonnes of turbine blades a year worldwide.
The three blades on a standard-sized, two-megawatt turbine weigh a combined 20 metric tonnes (45,000 pounds).
However, being made of composite materials such as plastic and fiberglass, they can’t be recycled.
One German cement plant is cutting up the blades and grinding them down to be burned as fuel.
Sometimes, used blades, which have a lifespan of about 10 or 15 years, are sold to developing nations or industries setting up their own wind-generation plants.
A playground in Rotterdam, Holland, has repurposed five blades as playground equipment.
While the blades weigh about 20 tonnes, the steel towers can be 143 tonnes or more.
Each foundation requires about 700 tonnes of concrete, which is reinforced with about 40 tonnes of steel.
Underground power cables and transformer stations must also be dealt with.
There are about 1,200 turbines operating in Ontario, but the goal is to have 6,000 contributing to the electrical grid.
Large said his organization has written letters to the Ontario environment ministry asking for details about turbine decommissioning and recycling policies but has yet to get a response.
“We’re finding that in dealing with the government we’re getting very few replies. If you have to recycle, where are the regulated landfills?” he asked.
A similar Whig-Standard inquiry to the energy ministry this week was forwarded to the Ontario Power Authority, the agency responsible for licensing projects across the province.
In an email response, authority spokeswoman Mary Bernard said that requirements for decommissioning of a turbine facility would be contained in the operator’s Renewable Energy Approval, which must be filed with the Ministry of the Environment.
The developer is responsible for all decommissioning work.
“As part of the REA process, project developers are required to submit a Decommissioning Plan Report, which outlines procedures for dismantling or demolishing the facility, activities related to the restoration of any land and water negatively affected by the facility, and procedures for managing excess materials and waste,” wrote Bernard.
Large said they are investigating information coming from southwestern Ontario that used turbine blades have been stored in an abandoned quarry.
“There’s no place where turbines can be recycled in Ontario. There’s no regulated dump for them,” he said “Half the turbines in Ontario are getting close to their half-life. They will require maintenance.”
Large said a big concern is that the disruptive work that goes into erecting a turbine installation has to be repeated when decommissioning takes place.
“Our fear on Amherst Island is, first of all, it’s very expensive to build on an island,” he said.
“We’re afraid decommissioning will be so expensive the developer will disappear and we’ll be left with rusting turbines. There’s no money set aside for this.”
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