by Danielle Milley, Inside Toronto
On a quiet overcast morning on Lake Ontario a three-pronged white metal structure is the only thing visible off the Scarborough shoreline.
From far away it’s hard to see, but as the boat moves closer, Toronto Hydro’s anemometer comes into focus. Its small turbines visible four metres above the water turn from the force of the north wind; this and other data on wind speed and direction will be collected for the next two years. It will be used to help determine whether this is a suitable place to build a wind farm.
Construction on the wind testing device began in the fall, but due to weather it was halted and finished in May. The anemometer has been up and running and collecting data for just a few days now.
To many Scarborough residents its presence means wind turbines are coming to their shoreline.
Chris Tyrrell, Toronto Hydro’s chief conservation officer, said that’s not the case.
“This means we’re doing research,” he said. Tyrrell was one of the Toronto Hydro representatives along on a tour for journalists Thursday, June 10, morning to explain what this development means.
“You have to really understand the wind before you do any project,” he said. “This is really the most important and critical piece. If this shows the wind is unpredictable and inconsistent…you don’t go ahead with the project.”
Some people, including many Guildwood residents, have voiced their concerns with the project from Day 1 nearly two years ago. They talk about noise, vibration, bird and bat fatalities, health concerns, property values and aesthetics. Often cited is a study done by the Ontario Power Authority that used computer modeling to deem this not an ideal location for an offshore project.
“Putting a site specific anemometer really proves what is right here,” Tyrrell said. “Without that you’re just guessing.”
The project is part of a plan to generate 500 megawatts of renewable energy in Toronto. The city has a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and as an asset wholly owned by the city, Tyrrell said Toronto Hydro shares that commitment.
“The renewable energy target is why we’re here today,” he said.
The anemometer is located 1.1 kilometres offshore southeast of East Point Park, a little further east than originally planned, confirmed Joyce McLean, director of strategic issues for Toronto Hydro.
She said there is a lot more to be done before anyone would ever see a wind turbine in this location.
They’ll be looking at the data as it comes in over the next two years to try to determine if the wind data combined with the construction costs makes the project financially feasible.
“If we make a decision to proceed then we’d have to begin an environmental assessment,” McLean said.
The writing of the EA document, which would entail many studies and additional public consultation, would take about a year, and the turnaround for approval from the government is currently about six months.
“It’s a complicated and lengthy process so we’re talking five years before anything is out here,” she said.
A summary of the wind data being collected by the anemometer will be periodically released on Toronto Hydro’s website for those who are interested.
The project would involve up to 60 three- to 3.6-megawatt turbines stretching 25 kilometres from Ajax to the Leslie Street Spit two to four kilometres offshore. The province, however, has yet to set the regulations for offshore wind and distance from shore is one key component of those regulations.
Scarborough East Councillor Paul Ainslie met with Minister of Energy Brad Duguid and Scarborugh-Guildwood MPP Margarett Best on June 4 to discuss the lack of standards. As well, he wants to see site specific regulations established.
“We need to define no-go zones,” said Ainslie in a release.
“Areas which have to be protected from any present or future proposals. There are certain waterways that have environmental, historical and aesthetic value which need protection, especially the Scarborough Bluffs. You don’t see anyone offering a wind turbine project on top of Niagara Falls.”
McLean believes if the project goes ahead it would conform to any standards.
“We’re not concerned because we believe what we’re proposing is a reasonable distance from shore,” she said.
This research phase of the project comes with a $1.1-million price tag.