Canadian Consulting Engineer

Where’s Canada’s Wind?

August 1, 2003
By Bronwen Parsons

At an environmental conference in Toronto in June, I asked a long-time advocate of green buildings what was new. "Why this is!" he exclaimed, sweeping his arm around the crowded room: "Green design ha...

At an environmental conference in Toronto in June, I asked a long-time advocate of green buildings what was new. “Why this is!” he exclaimed, sweeping his arm around the crowded room: “Green design has become mainstream!”

While my friend was being optimistic, there are signs that the environmental movement is taking off and becoming a driving force in construction and other industries. Since ratifying the Kyoto Accord last year, the federal government has left off policy-making and begun to hand out hard cash for developing sustainable technologies. In June it released a list of 10 demonstration projects and has set aside $350 million to the Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund for similar efforts. The projects announced ranged from fuel cells, to biomass energy, to carbon sequestration and efficiency in wastewater treatment — all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In building design, an encouraging development is the growing acceptance of LEED, a tool for measuring building designs from an environmental perspective (see page 44). Once the industry has accepted a common standard for green design, it will be much easier to persuade clients to take sustainability seriously. Who knows? Maybe one day all buildings will use recycled materials and have solar panels or wind generators on their roofs.

It’s a pity, though, that there isn’t a bigger movement to boost large-scale wind energy generation. Another speaker at the Toronto conference was Jos Beurskens, a Dutch engineer who is president of the Netherlands Wind Energy Association. Beurskens made a convincing case for wind as a clean power source that can satisfy a good portion of our needs. He explained that the payback on the installation of a wind turbine is good — 0.25 to 0.5 years — and the equipment has a projected lifetime of 20 years. The ex-factory price is around 350-400 Euro dollars per cubic metre of swept area. He said the turbines run 80% of the time, and they have to have “the reliability of a Rolls Royce with the budget of a Citroen 2-CV.”

Why, then, is Canada lagging so far behind other countries in this field of energy? The world has a total of 33,000 MW of wind generation installed, said Beurskens, and the industry is expected to grow by 33%. Meanwhile, Canada has only 236 MW — most of that in Alberta. We are being blown away not only by Europe and countries like India, but also by the U.S.

Beurskens dismissed most of wind energy’s problems one by one. He said farmers don’t mind the noise of the swishing blades if they make money from the rental of the land, and bird mortality is negligible compared to the numbers of birds killed by traffic and hunting. New designs will eliminate gearboxes, which can be temperamental, and for everyone who thinks that turbines are an eyesore, others think they are beautiful to behold.

Glen Estill, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says that his industry doesn’t expect wind to sweep all other types of power generation aside, but when old coal plants are decommissioned we should be building wind farms to replace them. It sounds like a good idea to me, so why aren’t more consulting engineers promoting this industry? As for governments, instead of subsidizing nuclear and fossil power, as is happening with the artificial price-capping in Ontario, they would do better to throw taxpayers’ money to the wind.


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