PICKERING – A familiar sight along the Waterfront Trail at Alex Robertson Park will soon be gone, but not without leaving behind a legacy.
The Ontario Power Generation (OPG) wind turbine, which for the past 18 years has stood as a landmark in south Pickering, is in the process of being dismantled, a decision made after gearbox failure has left it out of use for the past year or so.
But not only did it serve its purpose, according to OPG’s Neal Kelly, it also helped pave the way for more than 2,500 that have followed throughout Ontario since it was erected in 2001.
“This was really the beginning, the early days of large-scale commercial, industrial-sized wind turbines,” explained Kelly, the director of media, issues and information management for OPG. “The turbine did its job well and powered about 300 homes a year, and for an intermittent power source, that’s good.”
The 1.8-megawatt (MW) turbine was a prototype unit made in Denmark by Vestas Wind Systems, the largest wind turbine company in the world. It stood 30 storeys high with three blades about the size of 747 jet wings that, when operational, revolved more than 15 times per minute.
Although located beside the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, the turbine was actually operated and maintained by OPG’s Niagara operations team. Neal said the cost to replace the gearbox would have been about $500,000.
“There’s just no business case to replace that gearbox,” he said. “The wind turbine struggles to break even when costs of maintenance are factored in, so we made the business decision to bring the turbine down safely, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
The process began Sept. 30, when contractor E.S. Fox set up in the area. A huge crane was mobilized on the morning of Oct. 7 to remove the blades, and work will be ongoing into early-November, according to Kelly.
A nearby portion of the Waterfront Trail will be closed for safety reasons during hoisting activities, but will remain open evenings and weekends.
OPG has captured photos and video of the dismantling through use of a drone, offering spectacular views of the work and the neighbouring lands.
The three blades – which were 39 metres long, hollow and made of fibreglass composite – had been damaged by lightning over the years and will likely be cut up and sent to landfill, said Kelly, explaining there are no large-scale fibreglass recycling facilities in Canada.
At the top of the tower, the blades were attached to a bus-sized nacelle, which contained the generator, transmission, gearbox and controls.
“When it was first installed almost 20 years ago, the wind turbine showcased the possibilities of clean and renewable energy,” said Mayor Dave Ryan. “However, as it approached its end of life, OPG’s renewable generation group decided to dismantle it and return the area to a naturalized state. Regardless of how one feels about the structure, everyone can agree that it was a landmark on our waterfront for almost two decades.”
The largest of its kind in North America when it began operation in 2001, the Pickering turbine was just the third built in Ontario behind smaller projects in Tiverton and Port Albert. Through December 2018, there were 2,577 turbines at 96 locations in the province, including 140 alone at the K2 Wind Power Facility in Goderich.
Although considered an expensive option in 2001, improved technology and declining costs have made wind energy the lowest cost source of new electricity generation available to Ontario, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CWEA).
“That kind of generation of turbine has really done a great job and served its purpose,” said Phil McKay, CWEA’s operations and maintenance program director. “We keep getting new models – the global industry is really moving ahead at a fast pace – and that was certainly an important part in the history of the progress.”
Ontario’s investments in new renewable energy sources like wind have helped drive a 90 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its electricity sector since 2003, according to CWEA.
Critics point to visual and noise pollution, threat to birds, and the possibility of well-water contamination to property near wind farms.
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