Canadian Consulting Engineer

Community Wind

January 2004 marked the first anniversary of Toronto's new wind turbine at Exhibition Place on the city's western waterfront. The bold initiative has altered the urban skyline irrevocably and introduced Torontonians to the potential of producing t...

March 1, 2004  By Virginia Heffernan

January 2004 marked the first anniversary of Toronto’s new wind turbine at Exhibition Place on the city’s western waterfront. The bold initiative has altered the urban skyline irrevocably and introduced Torontonians to the potential of producing their own green electricity. The 30-storey generator also serves as a test case for North American cities, since it is the first utility-scale turbine on this continent to operate in a downtown setting.

Now that the excitement over the historic introduction of wind power to the urban grid has passed, it’s time for the number crunchers to move in. They will determine precisely why the turbine produced less power than projected in its first year of operation, a shortfall its owners attribute to growing pains and, possibly, a slow wind year.

Based on historical wind measurements from the site, the generator is expected to produce an average of 1,400 megawatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power about 250 homes. Actual production for the first year was closer to 1,100 megawatt hours.

“It was our first year, so there were a number of commissioning downtimes,” says David Timm, project manager for Windshare, which owns the turbine in a 50/50 partnership with Toronto Hydro. “We have to do an assessment to see what kind of wind year it was. We don’t know if it was a good year for winds, a bad year for winds, or an average year for winds. We have to compare it to the historical data.”

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Supplied by Lagerwey Windturbine International of Holland, the LW 750 turbine is designed to produce 128 kilowatts of electricity per hour in winds of 10-12 knots. It stands 94 metres high, with a gearless generator and three 24-metre long blades that rotate at about 27 rpm.

Two Canadian companies, Tri-Service Metal Products and Bolwell Corporation respectively, built the tower and blades. Toronto-based RJS Mechanical supervised assembly and installation.

Despite the production shortfall for 2003, Timm is pleased with the operation. He says public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and technical problems have been few.

“The only thing that was an issue was that a capacitor failed,” he says. “But we had the parts and it was changed within a day.” Beside that hold-up and stops for routine maintenance, the turbine has been running “tiptop,” says Timm.

Since the construction of the Exhibition Place turbine, Lagerwey fell into financial difficulties but its assets have been purchased by a consortium of Americas Wind Energy and two other Dutch companies that plan to license the technology used in Toronto worldwide.

Shareholder scheme

With its highly visible city setting, the turbine has a special role in promoting wind power as a solution to smog and other emissions derived from traditional energy sources based on fossil fuels.

The turbine project was also made possible through a unique community arrangement. WindShare is a cooperative owned by businesses and residents of Toronto. It was established by the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative, of which Greg Allen, P.Eng. was a founding member. WindShare is the first community-based organization in Canada to develop green power.

To help finance its share of the $1.6 million capital cost for constructing the turbine, WindShare raised $800,000 by selling 8,000 preference shares at $100 each to Toronto residents. Another 8,000 shares are earmarked for a second turbine to be built — also in equal partnership with Toronto Hydro — at Ashbridges Bay at the east end of the waterfront.

Once these generators become profitable, shareholders will be paid an annual dividend based on the proceeds from the sale of electricity to Toronto Hydro or other distributors. The cooperative’s ultimate goal is to allow members to benefit directly from energy sales through a net billing system.

There are unique costs to operating a wind turbine in an urban environment as opposed to in a farmer’s field or wind farm. WindShare had to implement a rigorous de-icing program to prevent potential damage or injury caused by ice falling from the blades. And because the turbine is so visible to so many people, an effective communications strategy was also essential.

Timm says wind-generating technology has made huge strides since the Exhibition Place generator was ordered three years ago. WindShare plans to take advantage of the competition by issuing an international Request for Proposal for the contract to build the second turbine at Ashbridges Bay.

The next turbine is facing some headaches. The Toronto Port Authority, a federal agency, owns the chosen site and has leased it to the city for sewage treatment. The Authority is reluctant to approve use of the site for anything but its intended purpose.

But after working for seven years to establish the community-based source of wind power in Toronto, Greg Allen can momentarily set aside current challenges to relish in the realization of his dream at Exhibition Place.

“It was a long process,” says Allen, “I celebrate every time I see on the horizon that the turbine wings are turning.”

Postscript

In February, a published expert study found that the impact of the turbine on local and migrating bird populations was negligible. After monitoring during the spring and fall migrating periods when over 40 million birds fly over the city, only two dead birds were found. Several species flew nearby but avoided the blades. See www.trec.on.ca/windshare.

Virginia Heffernan is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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