A wind turbine pilot project at a GO station in Mississauga, built for $620,000, is producing 91 per cent less electricity than originally projected.
The turbine, unveiled at Lisgar GO station in April 2009, was expected to produce 98,550 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year – enough to power 80 per cent of the station’s electricity needs.
More than four years later, it is only producing around 9,000 kWh per year, or about 9 per cent of projections.
That’s enough electricity to power a single typical household in Toronto for nine months.
Metrolinx blamed “inconsistent localized wind levels” and new development in the area for the turbine’s underperformance. A spokeswoman still called it a “marginal success.”
“We are disappointed in the output for sure,” said Metrolinx media relations manager Anne Marie Aikins. “We don’t believe that this pilot project was a failure. It’s still producing renewable energy – that’s the most important. It’s contributing to the grid. It’s just not contributing as much as we hoped and expected it would.”
The 31-metre-tall turbine at Lisgar has a rotor diameter of 15 metres. It was expected to rotate about 75 per cent of the time at 30 per cent of its maximum capacity. If those projections had been borne out in reality, the turbine would have produced almost 450,000 kWh by now.
Instead, Metrolinx reports that it has only produced 35,000 kWh since a bidirectional meter was installed to measure the power in early 2010.
Kristopher Stevens, executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, said having projections off by so much is “really bizarre.”
“It’s not hard to get the numbers right for a windmill, you just need to do your homework,” he said.
Stevens has overseen projects that measured wind for three years before construction in order to understand wind patterns.
“I don’t know what they did for this small windmill,” Stevens said. “Did they put up an anemometer? Did they study the wind speeds or did they just take a guesstimate based on what else is around there?”
He questioned the wisdom of building a 31-metre tower on the edge of an urban area, describing how a successful project was built on Manitoulin Island with 80-metre turbines and no buildings around.
Typically, when any buildings are in the immediate vicinity, solar panels are more appropriate, he said.
“Smaller windmills are more challenging to operate and you’ve got to be really sensitive to the landscape and how it’s going to impact things,” Stevens said. “Any building would create ‘dirty wind’ – or turbulence – which would lead to (the turbine) being less productive.”
Metrolinx blames new development in the area for throwing off the projections.
The wind energy consultant hired to vet the project did not address any future development in its feasibility study, a copy of which was provided to the Star.
The consultant, Genivar Ontario, studied the entire GO system and ranked each property in the GTA, recommending Lisgar as the ideal location for a wind power project.
Genivar was paid $138,000 to do the feasibility study and oversee the turbine’s construction, Metrolinx said.
Isabelle Adjahi, a spokeswoman for the Montreal-based company, declined to comment, explaining that those who had prepared the report have since left the firm.
“It’s important to remember that this was simply a pilot project, and pilot projects help us determine if greater investment in an initiative is called for or if the government should go a different route,” said Patrick Searle, spokesman for Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray.
Experts say renewable energy projects always present large upfront costs, but they recoup those costs as they produce nearly free electricity for years.
In 2007, Lisgar GO station was retrofitted with many energy-efficient features. It boasts in-floor radiant heating, energy-recovering ventilation, high-efficiency windows, doors, lighting and plumbing and automated lighting controls. Not to mention an eco-friendly stormwater management system.
Both the station and turbine were part of a green initiative launched to make transit more sustainable and combat climate change.
The turbine, built in Charlottetown, PEI, and Montreal, normally turns at 65 rotations per minute. The blades are supposed to rotate in winds as low as 14 km/h, up to a maximum of 41 km/h, though a GO rider who contacted the Star said he often sees them standing still.
Aikins said other renewable energy projects have been put on hold while Metrolinx studies what went wrong at Lisgar.
“There’s a strong commitment in our organization to finding renewable energy sources,” she said. “We just need to do it right to ensure we’re getting the best return on investment.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding