The wind turbine that symbolized Ontario’s push for green energy is at a standstill and won’t be generating electricity until next month at the earliest, CBC News has learned.
The turbine located at Exhibition Place was damaged in a storm in March, and it hasn’t worked since.
The rainstorm caused water damage to the turbine’s ring generator, said Tori Gass, media relations specialist for Toronto Hydro. The turbine is a joint venture of Toronto Hydro Energy Services Inc. and the WindShare Co-operative.
“There were also high winds in this rainstorm … and that’s what allowed the rain to get into the generator area,” Gass said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Toronto. “This is the first time it happened in the life of [the turbine], it’s not a common occurrence.”
It took until August to find a specialist firm that could do the necessary repair, which cost about $100,000, said Gass. Toronto Hydro then decided to perform other upgrades, at a cost of $25,000, that are be completed in November
This is just the latest in a series of maintenance troubles for the turbine since it began operating in 2003.
Its original backers promoted it as a showcase for the benefits of wind energy, billing it as “the most visible wind turbine in Canada” with its location along the shore of Lake Ontario, just west of downtown.
The turbine was sometimes used as a photo backdrop by former premier Dalton McGuinty and other members of his government, until a backlash over wind farms in rural Ontario contributed to the Liberals losing several seats in the 2011 election.
WindShare’s own blog about the Exhibition Place turbine shows it has been plagued with problems over the past five years. The issues began after the turbine’s main bearing was replaced in 2011.
“These improvements should extend the life of the turbine and further improve its availability and reliability,” said WindShare in a statement at the time. “With new equipment installed, our turbine will run better than ever.”
That has not proved to be the case.
A series of what the operators called “cascading faults” took the turbine off line from the summer of 2012 until March 2013. That time, the problems involved the converter, which generates electricity from the motion of the blades.
A new converter was installed but it too had trouble, and the turbine went down again from July to October of 2014.
The turbine was originally pitched as producing enough electricity to power 250 homes.
“It hasn’t come anywhere close to that,” said Parker Gallant, vice president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a group critical of the province’s wind turbine policies.
“It’s probably one of the worst [turbines] to look at in terms of what it’s actually produced,” Gallant said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Toronto. “It’s a bad example of industrial wind turbines.”
Gass, of Toronto Hydro, rejected the assertion the turbine is unreliable.
“It might seem like it’s not running a lot of the time, but actually in the realm of turbines, this one is considered quite reliable,” said Gass, adding that the turbine has an availability record of 95 per cent.
She said the upgrades to be completed by November will extend the 25-year lifespan of the turbine by another 10 years.
Officials with the Toronto Renewable Energy Coalition (TREC), which launched WindShare, declined comment and referred all questions to Toronto Hydro.
“WindShare is run by a volunteer board, and no longer has its own technical team,” said Linda Varekamp, operations and communications manager for TREC, in an email. “Toronto Hydro is currently taking the lead on maintenance and repairs.”
The turbine was manufactured by a Dutch firm, Lagerwey Windturbine Intl., at a price of $1.2 million, and was installed in late 2002. “Because of the prominent location, the turbine will go a long way in raising public awareness of the benefits of this renewable technology,” said Hilda Mackow, who at the time was president and CEO of Toronto Hydro Energy Services.
Criticism of Ontario’s wind energy program has focused on the hefty premiums paid to wind farm companies, financed by hydro customers’ electricity bills, as well as homeowner compalints about noise and vibration. In addition, wind turbines in Ontario tend to produce power when it is least needed, such as at nighttime, while generating little power on hot summer days, when demand for electricity peaks.
“Wind turbines are not really effective,” said Gallant. “They basically produce intermittent, unreliable power, out of synch with demand.”
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