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January 31, 2008     Post 3
Lake Ontario windfarm update

Blue energy log on line another Lake Ontario wind farm update.

The Province of Ontario recently lifted a moratorium on wind farm development in the Canadian waters of Lake Ontario. This prompted several press releases from Trillium Power which is proposing the biggest offshore wind farm in North America for the waters off Main Duck.

Since the arrival of the first Europeans on its shores. Lake Ontario has played a key role in the economic activity and development of the surrounding region. One of its most important ( though not always recognized) contributions as been its numerous energy “subsidies” to our region. The first of these historically was its service as a waterway for transport. Cargoes floating nearly friction free on water move with a fraction of the energy required to move them over land.

The impact of water transport as an energy subsidy to an area can be seen very clearly in the history of the Erie Canal and New York State. The Erie Canal gave rise to explosive economic growth along its corridor that shaped settlement patterns and political and financial power centers on a national scale in ways that prevail to this day. On Lake Ontario and the other lakes, thousands of white winged schooners used the wind for over a hundred years to transport passengers and cargoes that fueled the rise of the great industrial heartland of the upper Midwest. After fossil fuel replaced wind power in the shipping fleet, the lake continued its role as energy “subsidizer” both in transport and energy production.

One of the first commercial scale hydro stations in America was set up at Niagara Falls in 1895, 14 years after the first electric power was produced here in 1881. Lake Ontario continues to be a major hydro power source also known in the past as 'white coal'. The biggest single generator in New York is the State Power Authority's Niagara station which produces 2400 MW, close to the production of all three nukes at Nine Mile point. In 2005 this plant also generated 166 million dollars of revenue. A goodly share of the impetus for finally building the St. Lawrence Seaway came from the prospect of generating power from the dams associated with the project.

The lake continued its role as energy “subsidizer” with the rise of fossil powered electrical plants. Its waters today cool the condenser systems of dozens of coal oil and nuclear powered generating stations and serve as a sink for the waste heat lost during electrical generation. Our lake is the most “nuclearized” of the great Lakes with 16 nuclear plants while it is also home to a number of coal oil and gas fired plants. All of the Great Lakes together host dozens of water dependent fossil and nuclear powered generating stations.

The dawn of the 21st century brought a dawning awareness of the finite nature of a fossil fuel based energy source for the world. People looked to solar and its indirect derivative wind, and commercial wind power is now one of the fastest growing non fossil fuel sources of electricity. A wind farm has been proposed for Lake Erie, another 140 MW wind farm was proposed for Sara B's old home sailing grounds off Jones Beach Long Island ( though an Internet search suggests it may now be on hold as of last summer.) The steadier stronger winds of offshore locations make coastal waters less than 70 feet deep prime sites for wind powered generators.

On Lake Ontario the northeast corner of the lake offers some of the best most consistent winds anywhere on the lake. As sailors who cruise the Kingston Sackets Harbor Henderson Harbor area are well aware, summer's southwesters get a boost from onshore thermals on sunny days. In winter, when the yachts are all tucked away ashore under their tarps, winds over the lake are less gusty than on land and are easier on the engineered fabric of a wind turbine than land winds. A January 08 news story in the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record's website cites recent wind speeds of up to 110 km/hour at the proposed site for a big Lake Ontario wind farm off Main Duck and Prince Edward County. That proposed project, first described on the Log on line a couple summers ago is for a 140 turbine wind farm that will produce 710 MW of power when finished ( that's about three quarters of what the Nine Mile 2 nuke produces).

Wind power offshore has not had an easy road of it in the US. A big proposed project off Cape Cod ironically received a lot of opposition and flack from well heeled and politically influential yachtsmen some of whom had sailboats. Aesthetics are an undeniable consideration, but to someone who resided within earshot of a small nuclear plant and its obnoxious night time security lighting, a wind tower isn't any worse than all the cell towers popping up on the lake's skyline.

About two years ago the CEO of Trillium Power assured the writer that no staging for construction would be done on Main Duck. Rather the work would be done from a ship or a jack up barge of some sort, possibly to be built by the company installing the wind farm.

One concern often cited about wind farms is their impact on birds. The Daily Commercial News story cites information from Trillium Power that bird impacts would be minimal, claiming that most birds follow the Lake Ontario shoreline. In fact, a number of small long distance migrants do fly over the lake at night as radar studies show. One Internet reference from the National Zoo states that 75% of song birds fly between 500 and 200 feet which would put some of them at the level of the wind turbines at least some of the time. The same article states that night flying migrants generally fly at higher levels when over water and when they have a tail wind.

Under the right conditions (like maybe when they experience a headwind over the lake on a night of poor visibility) goodly numbers of small birds certainly could collide with the towers. One has only to consider how many small night flying birds smack into tall lighted buildings and end up dead on the sidewalk beside them. I used to encounter dead birds and disoriented birds confused by the security lights, hopping around inside the break room building and on sidewalks of the little nuclear plant I worked at one winter. Migration is a hazardous business. The larger night fliers like the various waterfowl probably would not be much impacted by the turbines. One Internet study citation on a bird study using the Buffalo radar mentioned an early November night flight as being between 2 and 5000 feet. I'm assuming from the date that this was primarily water fowl.

The future of wind power on the Great Lakes is uncertain. There will probably be plenty of bumps in the road and vocal opposition to any big offshore wind farms. There is some pretty vocal opposition to any proposed small scale installations along the lake shore in Wayne County from residents of Huron, just west of my shoreline location in Wolcott, anyway.

There are formidable technical and engineering hurdles as well. A few years ago I was privileged to meet a remarkable man named Dave Shepherd who had once been part of a company my husband was involved with. After retiring from the computer business, Mr. Shepherd tried to put together a project to tap high altitude winds with a self positioning tethered flying wind generator. It was ( and is) a daunting project, and unfortunately Mr. Shepherd did not live to see it get off the ground literally. However, the work he started has received some funding. Possibly a prototype will fly in a few years.. (There is information from that early 2003 interview on the log on line under “wind power update”.)

Trying to do anything big, like maybe saving the world from global warming through wind energy, is not easy. There are obstacles from just about every quarter, and skeptics abound. There will be environmental and other costs to any large scale energy production project. But the costs of not doing anything and continuing on the road we're presently rushing down, strike me as bigger. Much bigger. Stay tuned to see what role the lake will play in energy subsidies in the years to come. History suggests it will be important both locally and to the continent as a whole.

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