Credit: By Paul Schliesmann, The Whig Standard
A retired Queen’s University physics professor says wind farms don’t live up to the hype generated by energy companies and governments.
John Harrison says that for the final six months of 2009, the Wolfe Island wind farm operated at about one-quarter efficiency.
It’s misleading, Harrison said, for Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen and Trans -Alta, the company that recently bought the wind farm, to claim that the 86 turbines power 75,000 homes.
“Based upon full-year numbers for the other wind farms,” he wrote in a report to theWhig-Standard,”I expect an annual average for Wolfe Island to be 27%. This is enough to power 38,000 homes.”
Gerretsen, who kept his portfolio despite Monday’s cabinet shuffle, said he refuses “to get involved in a numbers game.”
“It’s my understanding that the number of turbines there, when they’re operating … will power up to 75,000 homes,” he said.
In an e-mail response, TransAlta representative Lindsey Moen wrote that the company is anticipating annual efficiency averages of 34% at the Wolfe Island EcoPower Centre.
Winter generation is usually “two to three times higher” than in summer, she said, and it takes one or two years to get a good assessment of a site’s potential.
Moen also said that using the figure of 75,000 homes that could be powered is simply intended “to explain megawatt hours of energy in common terms.”
Gerretsen said it’s crucial for the health of the planet to start employing cleaner energy sources like wind and solar sooner than later.
“Burning fossil fuels causes climate change problems,” said Gerretsen. “Every little bit helps.”
Harrison is also critical of how much the provincial government is paying wind generation companies to send electricity to the power grid.
The Wolfe Island project gets nine cents a kilowatt hour. Rates for new facilities coming on line were set at 13.5 cents.
“It was a pure gift. There was no need for that,” said Harrison. “It was an unnecessary gift, given the economic situation of Ontario.”
Despite its efficiency rate, Harrison estimates that the Wolfe Island wind farm, which opened this past summer, should still make TransAlta about $40 million a year.
“The revenue of every turbine is $450,000 a year at this capacity, times 86 turbines,” he said.
Harrison became a critic of wind power two years ago when he heard that a wind farm might be built on Amherst Island, where he retired.
The efficiency numbers, combined with health concerns, led Harrison to conclude that it’s not worth it for communities to host such projects.
“This tells us that the efficiency of wind power is about 27%. On Amherst Island, which has less wind than Wolfe Island, the efficiency (would be) only 20%.”
Harrison said the provincial government’s new Green Energy Act has taken away the power of municipalities to challenge wind farm projects.
Gerretsen said that if people can prove wind turbines are detrimental to their health, they can go to the provincial environmental review tribunal for a ruling.
“There are appeal rights available,” he said.
“It’s always a question of balance. Green energy is basically much better than the burning of fossil fuels.”