A little over a month ago, American Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau announced that BOEM, on July 31, will hold the first-ever competitive lease sale for the development of commercial wind energy. The location of the auction sites is the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf and comprises 66,674 hectares (164,750 acres) offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This step is another milestone in President Obama’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy. “Today we are moving closer to tapping into the enormous potential offered by offshore wind to create jobs, increase our sustainability, and strengthen our Nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” remarked Secretary Jewell.1 According to the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory the forthcoming power could support over one million homes.
Far inland, for those of us living along the shores of the Great Lakes, the same benefits of offshore wind power should be a no-brainer. To this end, two years ago, Ontario quickly came out of the gate and became the front-runner in the race to develop freshwater offshore wind energy. Government scientists had been researching the issue from at least 2007 and a previous moratorium on the matter was lifted in 2008. The then-premier Dalton McGuinty was certain that developments in offshore wind could be completed in a way that would not harm ecosystems and ordered two studies dealing directly with impacts on aquatic animals and fish habitat and one study looking closely at the engineering impacts. The three papers were submitted in the summer of 2011. Ontario’s commitment attracted major turbine manufacturers and supply chain companies and stood to see thousands of excellent jobs develop in the province.
That was then. Ontario is now blowing its ‘first mover’ advantage. While others are on the accelerator, the province sits in neutral seemingly content to watch the huge dividends from freshwater offshore energy float away. In February, 2011, a provincial election year where votes were the most important consideration, the government kicked offshore wind out of the feed-in-tariff (FIT) program and all applications were suspended. To justify this action, it slapped a moratorium on all offshore projects saying more scientific research was needed to prove any offshore wind developments are protective of the environment and posed no health risks. As a result of turning its back, the government is currently embroiled in law suits that run into the billions of dollars – taxpayers’ dollars.
When Ontario’s stance sent original investors running a mile it left the door wide open and Ohio eagerly stepped in to take the lead. The regional non-profit and economic development Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDco) has received approximately US$4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. The money will go towards engineering, design, siting, and permitting for its five-turbine (possibly nine) ‘Icebreaker’ wind farm located 11 kilometres (7 miles) off the shoreline of Cleveland. This installation will be a first of its kind in North America and is slated to produce 20 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
The Ohio project has attracted industry-leading manufacturers, a university, and several municipal governments to the table prompting LEEDco to set its sights on delivering 1,000 MW of offshore energy by 2020, all from within Ohio’s jurisdiction. The fact that much of this could have been along Ontario’s shore of Lake Erie has not gone unnoticed. Industry analysts and experts are still scratching their heads wondering why some entities have been pushed aside while others were given the green light. This includes a large Korean firm being given the right to develop 2,500 MW of renewable power on condition they invest CA$7 billion, source many of the supplies in Ontario, and meet job creation targets.2
Where is the program now?
A little over two months ago, Ontario’s Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli confirmed that any party waiting for offshore wind development in the province’s jurisdiction to get underway is in for a long wait. “All I can say at this point is that offshore is still in a moratorium and it’s likely to stay that way for some time,” he told reporters.
When was asked to explain why it was going nowhere, he started ducking and diving by answering that it has everything to do with how un-established offshore wind development is in Ontario. “The basic reason is that all of the other elements of green energy have been implemented in various jurisdictions. Wind was well established in Ontario, solar was well established, biomass was well established in different jurisdictions. But offshore wind was not in the same category of experiential advancement.”
In a recent interview, McGuinty’s tune had changed. He said, “The fact of the matter is that there is a dearth, there is a shortage of science when it comes to locating wind turbines in fresh water. If they decide to put up a thousand in a square mile, I’m not sure that would be in keeping with standards that properly protect the aquatic life in the Great Lakes. We’ll take the time to do this thoughtfully and responsibly.”
In actual fact, it’s unclear if researchers in the Ministry of Energy are even working on the studies that the former premier indicated were necessary before reopening the debate on the subject. What is abundantly clear, however, is that Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne is completely non-committal on the topic.
I was very interested to read the following thoughts of Gideon Forman, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE):3
CAPE believes properly positioned offshore wind turbines will, over time, effectively stabilize electricity rates, create jobs, reduce pollution, and provide us with a local source of clean, renewable energy. We can’t help but wonder why Ontario is back in Court to stymie the growth of this sector.
Huge steps on developing offshore wind are being made globally and by our neighbours to the south. Why are the Americans aggressively committing to new offshore projects on the east coast of the U.S. and their side of the Great Lakes? It is because offshore wind provides big renewable energy dividends.
Ontario’s far offshore wind generation resource has all the benefits of onshore wind and more.
The location of turbines over water produces an entirely different dynamic that arguably enhances daytime wind volumes and electricity production. It provides another non-polluting tool to deal with peak energy demand in the daytime.
We need to think beyond Ontario’s current short-term electricity surplus and be prepared for the future. Imagine the consequences of a power shortage in the next few years as our economy ramps up again. Imagine Ontario getting back its industrial mojo and demonstrating our ingenuity and skills while employing people in an industry for the future.
I couldn’t agree more that Ontario has the perfect opportunity to advance this energy of the future and realize the incredible accompanying benefits into the bargain. Carefully and responsibly developed offshore wind, set far enough from the shore, should be considered a vital element in Ontario’s clean energy portfolio.
Short of studies on creating electricity that produces highly radioactive waste, one would be hard-pressed to find another energy source exposed to so much study for so long before a single kilowatt was flowing. If the topic really needs that much more scrutiny, perhaps the time has come to actually get both feet wet and erect a model that can be properly studied.
1 News Release, U.S. DOI. “Interior Announces First Offshore Renewable Energy Lease Sale.” (June 4, 2013).
2 Spears, J. “Wind farm files $475 million NAFTA claim over Ontario offshore moratorium” The Star Business (November 23, 2012).
3 Forman, G.“Is Ontario blowing its chance to be an offshore wind winner?” Environmental Communications Options’ Media Releases (April 17, 2013).