Time to stand up for clean energy in Ontario
Ontario is on its way towards a clean energy revolution. Across the province, green energy business, jobs and leadership are growing.
This page explores some common myths and misconceptions while providing evidence that clean energy is truly the best choice.
Clean Energy Myths
‘Are viewscapes being ruined?’
Myth: Wind turbines are blights on scenic areas.
Reality: Wind turbines are dominating features on a landscape. Many people consider them graceful, but others find them intrusive. Widespread consultation and engagement with communities, experts and other stakeholders remains the key to choosing appropriate locations for future wind projects. It has also been found that people who enjoy the sight of wind farms can bring financial benefits to the area: wind farms can increase tourism, especially if guided tours are provided. Ultimately, the best thing we can do to preserve our scenic natural spaces is to combat climate change, for which clean energy is desperately needed.
‘Is local governance is being ignored?’
Myth: Communities have little or no say over wind farm projects (Ontario specific)
Reality: Prior to the Green Energy Act, many municipalities in Ontario had their own guidelines regarding energy and infrastructure, especially relating to renewable energy. This patchwork became quite cumbersome to energy developers, as working through the municipal procedures could be very lengthy. Other problems had arisen as well, such as some municipalities approving wind farms closer than the recommended setback distance, and other refusing them despite compliance with the setback distance.
When the Green Energy Act was passed, it included provincial standards for renewable energy development, specifically things like the mandated setback distance for wind turbines from homes. The intent of this was to streamline and speed up the process of approving energy development applications, which has been fairly successful. Some communities, however, feel cheated out of decision-making rights. This is certainly a valid concern; municipalities have the difficult task of balancing those who are proponents of wind power against those who may have concerns about it. The best solution is to have overarching provincial guidelines as well as extensive public consultation. This allows companies to take into account the interests of the people in the community as well as the optimal decisions about the wind resource. Like and other energy project, developers must seek municipal, provincial and federal permits before the project can go ahead; on top of this, communities must be consulted and supportive of the wind farm before permits can be issued and the land can be developed.
Communities can gain even greater control when they participate directly in the microFIT or even the larger FIT program. Both financial incentives and technical support is available to churches, farmers, First Nations, school boards, municipalities and ordinary homeowners to erect windmills, install solar arrays and restore small hydro dams. The program empowers communities to own their renewable energy sources, to make decisions about it, and to make money from it.
‘Are wind turbines detrimental to human health?’
Myth: Wind turbines, and the noise they create, have adverse health effects such as dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbance.
Reality: Wind energy is a clean, safe technology with no associated emissions, harmful pollutants or waste products. In over 25 years and with more than 68,000 turbines installed around the world, no member of the public has ever been harmed by a wind turbine.
Unscientific claims about the health impacts of wind turbines have been adamantly dispelled by domestic and international health organizations, academics, and even judicial bodies who have unanimously agreed that wind energy is not the cause of health effects as suggested by anti-wind activists in Ontario. Dr. Geoff Leventhall, Consultant in Noise Vibration and Acoustics and author of the Defra Report on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects, for example, says: “I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines. There will not be any effects from infrasound from the turbines.”
In fact, the World Health Organization claims that “the increased use of renewable energy, especially wind, solar and photovoltaic energy, will have positive health benefits” and continue to claim that “the [health] effects are greatest from the coal cycle, followed by the oil and gas cycles. Renewable sources are associated with fewer health effects.”
‘Are prices for green energy too high?’
Myth: Prices paid for green energy are too high when compared to traditional sources of power
Reality: Electricity demand varies greatly throughout the course of the day, therefore electricity supply also varies greatly in response to this demand. As a result, the cost of electricity varies greatly because Hydro One and other bulk purchases must pay the spot price for peak electricity as demand rises sharply during peak hours. Most peak electricity generation systems utilize expensive input material (gas, oil, etc) and have a high cost. Renewables such as solar use a free input material and therefore have a zero marginal cost. In fact, peak demand (9am to 5pm) costs of conventional electricity sources have been much higher than the tariffs paid for solar PV power under the Ontario FIT and MicroFIT programs. In 2007, Ontario Clean Air Alliance estimated that the average cost of peak power during a typical six hour peak is $1,360/Mwh or $1.36/kWh. Solar power production peaks on hot summer days when Ontario traditionally uses expensive gas-powered peaking plants to deal with air conditioning power demands. As solar operators are given a fixed rate (44.4 to 72.2 cents/kwh) for their power, they are lowering the marginal cost of peak demand period electricity. Where new small hydro costs are valued at 12 cents/kwh, and nuclear comes in at about 15 cents/kwh (though nuclear generation in Ontario has a track record of costing on average 2.5 times more than projected) are compared to new wind power prices at 13.2 cents/kwh under the Green Energy Act, wind power distinguishes itself as a competitive and attractive choice.
‘Is renewable power causing electricity rates to go up?’
Myth: Ontario’s Feed-in Tariffs are Responsible for Recent Electricity Price Increases
Reality: Ontario has 215 MW of new solar generating capacity installed so far under the Ontario FIT and microFIT programs. This represents 0.05% of Ontario’s energy supply and is expected to increase to 1.5% of the supply mix by 2020. This solar capacity generates during daylight, or ‘peak demand’ hours and therefore is actually helping dampen the sharp cost increases of peak demand electricity. Wind, which is the other main form of power supply covered by Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff represents 1234.6 MW or 3.5% of all generation capacity in Ontario. Wind generation usually only produces approximately 50% of its capacity, thus feeding approximately 617 MW of electricity at any given time into the Ontario grid. Therefore it is overly simplistic to think that wind and solar, with a cumulative 1.25% share of the Ontario generation mix is driving up the price of electricity. Much of the existing electricity transmission infrastructure is old and in need of refurbishing, and most of the nuclear capacity is nearing the end of its lifetime in Ontario. The truth is electricity prices are increasing because of the expensive cost of upgrading Ontario’s aging nuclear sector, long overdue upgrades to the Ontario power grid and the building of new power plants.
‘Isn’t nuclear power cheaper than renewable?’
Myth: Nuclear power will keep electricity costs lower than renewables.
Reality: A comprehensive analysis comparing a green power portfolio to building new nuclear plants found that renewable power would be significantly less expensive than new nuclear, $13.5/MWh for green vs. $20/MWh for nuclear. Rates paid for wind and hydro power under the feed-in tariff system are lower than the cost of new or retrofitted nuclear power – 13.5 cents/kWh for wind vs. 19-37 cents/kWh for nuclear. Ontario is still paying for past nuclear cost overruns. The province has collectively made $19.6 billion in payments on the old Ontario Hydro’s “stranded debt” and still owe another $14.8 billion. Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone over budget and over schedule. On average, final costs have been two-and-half-times the initial estimated cost. The vast majority of current hydro bill cost increases have nothing to do with green energy contracts, but are mostly the result of overdue transmission system upgrades, including building a new link to the Bruce Nuclear Station. Only very small roof-mounted solar systems receive 80 cents/kWh under a program that is designed to jumpstart a solar industry in Ontario. To date, the program has resulted in hundreds of new manufacturing jobs and millions of dollars of investment in Ontario. The FIT solar price will fall as the industry picks up momentum in Ontario – the U.S. Department of Energy projects “grid parity” pricing of solar by 2020 at the latest. Renewable energy projects only get paid for the power they produce, unlike nuclear projects which enjoy numerous “sweetheart” benefits, including subsidies for radioactive waste disposal, liability limitations that dramatically reduce insurance costs, and the practice of passing capital cost overruns onto ratepayers and taxpayers. In fact, no nuclear project would ever get built without these “special deals.” A Queen’s University study found that the liability cap alone is worth $33 million per nuclear plant per year to nuclear operators in the United States (where the cap is less generous than it is in Ontario).
‘Do wind farms impact agricultural land?’
Myth: The installation of wind farms will have serious impacts on the land available for agricultural use, land area which is already crucial given the growing need for food worldwide.
Reality: In reality the installation of wind turbines has very minimal impacts on the amount of land available for agricultural needs. These farms are often built on land which had already been affected by land clearing and if wind turbines need to be decommissioned the land can easily be returned to its former state. It is estimated that only 5% (some reports say as little as 1%) of the land would be needed for turbine sites and access roads, leaving the other 95% for agricultural needs. This is very insignificant when compared to the land needed for power plants and mining operations, as well as the long term impacts in the area.
Farmers and graziers often lease their land to the wind farm companies and in often received annual lease payments of $2,000 – $5,000 per turbine, which is very generous compensation for such minimal land loss.
The question of livestock affects has been shown to be insignificant as well as it is often reported that cattle continue grazing, unaffected by the wind turbines presence and in many cases graze right up to the base of the turbine itself. Livestock in these farms have also often been reported to use the turbines as a source of shade and as scratching posts.
‘Do wind farms reduce property values?’
Myth: Wind farms are undesirable and nearby property owners will be unable to sell.
Reality: In the residential market, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people are simply never going to enjoy seeing a wind turbine when they gaze out their window, however if these people do not enjoy this then one would assume they also do not like the look of electricity pylons either, which are a lot more prominent then wind turbines. Many studies have found that 70% of people surveyed feel that they would have no objections to living in an area close to wind farms and less than 10% would be opposed to it.
In an examination of 25,000 properties within an 8km area of wind farms there wasn’t a single piece of evidence to support property value loss, in fact for the great majority of properties surveyed; property values actually rose quicker for those within sight of the turbine then those which weren’t.
Much of the scepticism evolved around this came from the fact that any property value loss will decrease almost entirely during the construction and planning phases, as one would expect, but very little property value loss is seen in residences around completed projects or operating wind farms.
As for the tourism industry, it is well established that many areas around wind farms have actually seen increases in the amount of tourists and in tourism revenues because of the wind farms themselves and often information centres have been established to further educate the public on the benefits of these farms.
‘Do wind turbines kill birds and bats?’
Myth: Thousands of birds and bats are killed each year because of these turbines and with further wind development projects this number will surely increase.
The Reality: Modern wind turbine projects have minimal adverse effects on bird populations. It is true that some birds are killed by these turbines but the number is small in comparison to other causes of bird deaths. Many studies show that almost 6,000 times as many birds are killed each year because of buildings and windows then wind turbines, even cats claim more than a thousand times as many birds a year then turbines do. By this logic, if a wind turbine was seen as a detriment to bird populations, then a new litter of kittens would seem like a bird holocaust.
Effects of wind turbines on bats are less known then birds, and for that reason several departments have been established to deal with research in this area as well as developing strategies to limit bat deaths such as shutting off the turbines at key times during the night when bats are most active. More bat deaths are now recorded than bird deaths, however most bat deaths aren’t caused by direct contact with blades but by barotrauma (death due to dramatic changes in atmospheric pressure) caused by the turbine blades.
Before a new project can be approved there is extensive research done on the project site to ensure effects on bird flight paths are minimal, endangered and at risk species aren’t in the area, and migratory patterns aren’t affected. More elaborate and scientifically based research methodology is constantly being evolved and implemented into these projects in order to ensure that minimal damage is done to wildlife and ecosystems.
Sources for further reading
Nuclear vs. Renewable:
Loss of Agricultural Land:
Loss of Property Value:
Effects on Birds/Bats