The spin on Ontario’s wind turbines

by John Spears, Toronto Star
For better or worse, wind turbines have become the symbol of renewable energy in Ontario because of their sheer physical presence. After hydroelectric power, they’re also the main producers of renewable electricity in Ontario. Here’s how they work.

The structure: Big turbines need a firm anchor. That means a reinforced concrete base up to five metres in diameter. A crane then lowers the main tower into place. Towers are made of rolled steel, concrete or a mixture of the two. They’re usually built in three sections. When fitted together, the larger towers reach about 80 metres high, although the biggest towers can go up to 100 metres.

Sitting atop the tower is the nacelle — the cone-shaped apparatus that acts as the hub for the blades. The nacelle houses the generator itself, along with a braking system to keep the turbine from spinning too fast. It also houses a “yaw drive” that turns the nacelle so it’s facing directly into the wind. The nacelle can rotate 360 degrees.

The turbine blades are made of fibreglass or carbon fibre. They’re up to 45 metres in length, so they reach up to 125 metres above the ground at the top of their sweep.

The power output: Output depends on the size of the turbine. The turbine at Exhibition Place in Toronto is small by today’s standards, producing 750 kilowatts of power at full speed.

Many big turbines now being erected in Ontario are produce up to 2.5 megawatts. Offshore turbines can be even bigger.

Location and spacing: Generally, developers try to scatter the turbines so they’re not directly behind each other when the prevailing winds are blowing. If they are directly in line, they need to be 10 turbine blade lengths apart to avoid turbulence. If they’re staggered, three to seven blade lengths is sufficient spacing.

Economics: A turbine with a feed-in tariff contract receives 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, or $135 a megawatt hour for its output. (One megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts.)

A two-megawatt turbine running at full speed, 24 hours a day for a year, would therefore produce 17,520 megawatt hours of power. Assuming it operates at 35 per cent capacity, in the real world it will produce about 6,132 megawatt hours.

At $135 a megawatt hour, that means revenue of $827,820 annually.

Assuming a more conservative capacity of 27 per cent, it would generate revenue of $638,604.

Offsetting the revenue are very high capital costs. The cost of purchasing, erecting, financing and connecting a turbine runs at about $2,500 a kilowatt of capacity, although prices are declining and in some cases are now below $2,000 a kilowatt, according to CanWEA. That means a two-megawatt turbine costs $4 million to $5 million to install. Included in the cost is rent of more than $19,000 a megawatt — paid to the landowner where the turbine is erected. That works out to about $38,000 annually for a two-megawatt turbine.

Not counted in these costs is the price of having backup plants standing by to fill in the gaps when wind speeds oscillate or die. Increasing numbers of wind turbines require more quick-starting, gas-fired generating stations, which are paid to be on standby even if they’re not operating.

19 thoughts on “The spin on Ontario’s wind turbines

  1. Well, the green energy revolution in Scotland has just hit the hard wall of reality:

    “Engineers warn Alex Salmond has no ‘practical strategy’ for keeping lights on in Scotland
    Scotland faces buying power from abroad to keep the lights on because Alex Salmond has no “practical strategy” for delivering his promise of a green energy revolution, a damning report by a leading engineering group has concluded.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/8869492/Engineers-warn-Alex-Salmond-has-no-practical-strategy-for-keeping-lights-on-in-Scotland.html

  2. “Location and spacing: Generally, developers try to scatter the turbines so they’re not directly behind each other when the prevailing winds are blowing. If they are directly in line, they need to be 10 turbine blade lengths apart to avoid turbulence. If they’re staggered, three to seven blade lengths is sufficient spacing.”

    So turbines cannot be placed behind each other due to turbulence.
    Of course that same turbulence wouldn’t affect the houses in their path now would it. Oh no. That suggestion just wouldn’t fit the governments special science.

  3. He explains how they work, BUT he forgot to mention the emissions in the story. The loud cyclical noise, the low frequency noise and vibrations, the sloppy electrical lines causing stray voltage and dirty electricity.
    Readers only got part of the story, but then again as we have heard before, the families being shoved out of their homes are insignificant.
    Carry on you wind lovers, carry on.

  4. In urban Ontario IWTs could be installed using choppers to move the sections & parts in place. Won’t need a crane to install them and they can fit into smaller spaces. No narrow streets to worry about.

  5. There is a little AHA! moment here. In the case of Pattern Energy who have a financial fund operating and a look at the companies involved generating investor input (with depending on dividend and/or other payout) there are companies involved in drilling exploration, gas and other energy generators, is perhaps the big payout in supplying backup for these wind turbines. The more wind turbines, the more backup is required, so that the companies developing Industrial Wind Turbine farms have a vertical integration and ready market for their backup fuels. Therein perhaps lies the profit — not forgetting of course the generous governmet subsidies to defray wind turbine operating losses in the first place. Stopping the subsidies would be one step. Without wind turbines, these international corporations might even have a problem selling their gas or other backup fuels.

    • There is going to be glut of natural gas on the market. So sell it to back up IWTs. Otherwise the gas will go unsold.

  6. John Spears – Toronto Star wrote:
    ……..”gas-fired generating stations,
    which are paid to be on standby even if they’re not operating.”
    Ha! Ha! Ha! ………….”even if they’re not operating”

    Hey John aka Rodeo Clown:
    Oh baby!
    A 250 page contract is available (50 pages are secret)
    Fact: These gas plants run 24/7 – 365 days of the year.
    Exception: If it explodes! Then it is not operating.

    The article is poorly researched. Period.
    Ha! Ha! Ha!

  7. The article is fine but in the Star that usually means there’s a bigger article to counter it, in this case http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1084123–planting-the-seeds-of-green-energy

    By 2014 about a third of all wind production we will either pay to curtail, or we will spill public hydro or curtail nuclear – or dump it. That’s assuming a perfect forecasting system requiring no standby.
    Some weeks, as was apparent in October, we won’t be able to use all available hydro.
    And because wind has little capacity value (the contribution at peak demand – in the summer), it is always extra capacity.
    But because we take it whenever it’s available, we have to pay the real capacity to be available.

    Mr. Spears lists some of the issues, but he doesn’t note they will make the truer fiscal cost of wind closer to $250/MWh.
    http://morecoldair.blogspot.com/2011/09/this-is-fifth-and-final-post-in-series.html

  8. The revenues received by landowners is incorrect. Present contracts are providing between $5000 to $12,000 per turbines (not per MW). Because of the increased reticence from many within farming communities to sign on to these very restrictive contracts, payouts of $25,000 per turbine are now being offered.

    • In the Niagara area, due to the size of the proposed turbines, up to $50,000/per turbine is being offered to landowners.

  9. The above Star article proves who some of the people are/were that are involved in the IWT fiasco in Ontario including the Green Energy Act.
    Greenpeace is clearly involved and other groups were brought on board only for the appearance of consensus. Consensus building is an old ENGO tactic used to fool the general public.
    If the NDP backs IWTs then they may well be out in ridings affected by them.

  10. “the larger towers reach about 80 metres high, although the biggest towers can go up to 100 metres”
    The ones proposed near me are to be over 600′ high, is that not double the size of the largest ones, or is my arithmetic wrong? I have checked the number a few times as it seems preposterous, but that is the figure given. Oh, and the reason given for such a height is that there is not much wind produced down lower.

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