WindShare: a stellar investment, a gallant icon

Update: now posted on the Friends of Wind Blog: Windshare: A stellar investment, a gallant icon.

I’ve never regretted my investment in WindShare. When I heard about the plan to put a wind turbine at Exhibition Place, I’d been in Canada for less than a month. We didn’t even have a permanent place to live when I put down my $501. I knew, though, that it would be an investment in the future.

Five hundred bucks seemed quite a bit of cash back then, but these days, it’s less than a flight to anywhere. It’s less than a weekend mini-break. It’s a couple of month’s car insurance, or worse, a car maintenance bill which I wouldn’t even grumble over now. No-one ever expects a car to appreciate after you’ve had the shocks redone, so in the same way, I don’t feel bad about my investment in WindShare not having a financial return. It’s had a much more rewarding return than mere money.

Sure, the initial offering indicated that we were supposed to make a reasonable return, what with the deregulation of the Ontario energy market. You don’t remember that? When the Conservative Ernie “Odo” Eves administration deregulated the market back then, you may have blinked and missed it. At the first taste of $100 power, the deregulation was cancelled, because market forces must always take second place in this province to re-electability. Poor Ernie; we almost saw his like again …

WindShare was supposed to have at least two wind turbines, which would have helped the return to members. For $REASONS, the other one didn’t happen: bureaucracy, lack of suitable turbines, fun with the TPA, lack of headroom from the island airport; any/all/some/none of the above can be cited. We were also supposed to export the model to a community-owned wind farm, but that didn’t happen. The province decided that any and all transmission and distribution near the Bruce was off-limits to all but the eponymous power company. So it goes.

Because of my wind power experience in the UK, I handily got on the inaugural board of WindShare. We campaigned for members around the city. We spoke to anyone who wanted to listen. We built the thing because we believed in the statement we were making. We didn’t hide our pride: we put the turbine where it would be seen by millions every day. If we could’ve put it on the lawn at Queen’s Park, we would.

We even sourced as much of the turbine locally as we could. The tower was made in Ajax. The blades were made in Huron Park. If there had been FIT Domestic Content rules back then, we would’ve aced them.

Now, not quite everything went swimmingly. A few weeks after construction, our vendor went bankrupt. A robust service agreement with a vendor is key to a wind project’s success. With the incredible support of WindShare’s partner in the turbine, frequent visits from the former service tech, a great local electrical service company, and hours and hours of work from dedicated volunteer members, we kept the turbine spinning. Try that with a nuclear plant. Actually, on second thoughts, please don’t.

We also had a slightly smaller set of blades than we’d ordered, having been promised longer ones by the now-defunct vendor. This meant we had to derate the turbine a bit more to avoid challenging operational conditions. Every year at CNE time, we’d lose comms to the turbine as one of the carny trucks would inevitably take out the overhead phone line. We fixed that one.

Other problems cropped up, too. The inverter would get a bit warm in summer heat, and go for a siesta. After building an effective cooling system, the inverter chugged along for a few years until it needed to be replaced. It was interesting working in Canadian generation back then; run-of-the-mill European power electronics were seen as weird new-fangled voodoo in Ontario. As we have lots of wind and solar now, IGBTs are no longer a source of IDKs.

Our wind resource wasn’t quite where we thought it might be, either. ExPlace has a lovely clear fetch across the lake, and historical data from the island might’ve indicated that. Who knew that most of the wind would seem to come over from the city, fuelled by the urban heat effect, and turbulent as all-get-out from chasing through the buildings? Well, we do. With ten year’s hindsight and operational data, that is.

So this turbine — little, (sometimes) broken but still good — what did it start? Well, it lead to the idea of community sustainable power in Ontario. It lead to the abolition of coal power in the province (which, if you can remember the acrid yellow goo that passed for air downwind of Lakeview, you’ll appreciate). It lead to the world-leading FIT program, driving the development of Ontario’s wind and solar industries, which as the last election shows have the overwhelming support of the people of Ontario. It also lead, on a personal scale, to my last decade’s employment building this Province’s sustainable energy base.

So when I see the WindShare turbine — whether fleetingly, from a GO train, or at extreme length when stuck on the terminally gridlocked Gardiner Expressway — it still makes me smile. We built an icon. We built careers then unknown to the province. We built hope. And from that, the return on satisfaction is better than any deal you can get on Bay St.

ExPlace Turbine Shutdown for Service

I noticed this in my twitter feed the other day:

windshare: ExPlace Turbine Shutdown for Service

From what the linked news release said, it looks like the turbine has had a major mechanical component failure. The replacement part will take several months to arrive, then needs a crane to replace it. The turbine is structurally sound, and is even yawing to follow the wind, but can’t generate.

This is a shame, as the volunteers at WindShare had just got the turbine operating at very close to commercial availability. There are also a couple of usefully windy months before the summer for which co-op members will lose revenue.

Update: a very watered-down news release went up on April 3rd: Turbine Technology Update.

a little bit on the toronto offshore wind farm and the Hélimax study

Many people (such as 1, 2, 3, 4) cite the Hélimax study Analysis of Future Offshore Wind Farm Development in Ontario [PDF] as a good reason not to even measure wind speeds off the Toronto shoreline. I would be quite surprised if most commenters had read it, as it’s not a light read, but there are three basic reasons that the report doesn’t apply:

  1. The report is not prescriptive; it does not outline the only viable sites in the Great Lakes. Indeed, the very last paragraph of the executive summary says “… it should be emphasized that the sites … selected do not necessarily correspond to the projects currently being developed. This report by no means seeks to disparage any sites currently under development which are not part of the 64 sites selected. There are wind power projects that can be feasibly developed beyond the sites that are identified in the present study.” A statement like that leads me to believe that the report was intended for capacity planning, and not site selection.
  2. The report specifically excludes Lake Ontario around the GTA on population density, even though it notes “… utilities generally prefer to have power generation close to population centres” [p.10]. Simply put, if Toronto Hydro wishes to bring wind power into Toronto, it can either have local generation where everyone sees it, or remote generation with pylons that everyone can see. Pick one.
  3. The mesoscale modelling that the report relies upon is unproven offshore: “… the accuracy of mean wind speeds derived from onshore mesomaps is generally assumed to be ±7%, the precision of such maps for offshore applications is not well known” [p.4]. ±7% for a mean wind speed means a lot more than seven percent in energy yield – that’s roughly good enough to tell you where you might want to start doing site selection. Indeed, the report confirms this: “… on-site meteorological measurements are required to perform a truly judicious assessment of the local wind resource and ensuing energy yields of a given site”.

So that about wraps it up for the Hélimax study pertaining to Toronto.

Others have commented that the low capacity factors of the Pickering and ExPlace turbines. Despite that fact that capacity factors for a given site are highly machine specific, there are some issues here too:

  • Both sites are near large buildings which disrupt air flow. This issue goes away even a moderate distance offshore.
  • Both sites are really demonstrators, and positioned for maximum public exposure rather than generation.
  • The Pickering Vestas V80 was a very early model of its type, and needed a lot of TLC to get operating. I wouldn’t call it quite a prototype, but it’s not far off.
  • The Pickering turbine is designed for windy (Class I) sites. It has shorter blades (80m diameter) and a bigger generator (1.8MW) than the turbines I’m most familiar with (82m diameter, 1.65MW). It will catch less wind and thus drive the generator less hard (quick, you come up with a better analogy for capacity factor … I couldn’t) than a Class II or III machine.
  • The Explace turbine has smaller blades than it was supposed to – the supplier ceased trading before they were able to replace the interim 52m blade set with 58m ones. As the tower was designed for longer blades, the turbine can never be run at full speed or full generation.
  • Due to the closure of Lagerwey, the ExPlace turbine has never had what I’d class as an industry-standard maintenance contract. The joint venture of TH and WindShare volunteers directs the maintenance, but there’s no permanent crew like a commercial operation would have.

So put that lidar out in the lake, and let’s see what we’ve got.

giveaway: windshare turbine picture

WindShare / Toronto Hydro wind turbine

Decided to give away my favourite picture of the WindShare/Toronto Hydro wind turbine under an open licence.

Here are the file details:

File size    : 719263 bytes
File date    : 2003:02:23 16:25:10
Camera make  : NIKON
Camera model : E2500
Date/Time    : 2003:02:23 16:25:10
Resolution   : 1200 x 1600
Flash used   : No (auto)
Focal length :  8.9mm  (35mm equivalent: 58mm)
Exposure time: 0.0007 s  (1/1451)
Aperture     : f/3.4
ISO equiv.   : 100
Whitebalance : Auto
Metering Mode: matrix
Exposure     : program (auto)
Jpeg process : Progressive
GPS Latitude : N 43d 37m 54.98s
GPS Longitude: W 79d 25m 32.4876s
Comment      : WindShare / Toronto Hydro wind turbine
Comment      : Exhibition Place, Toronto
Comment      : taken on opening day, 23 Feb 2003
Comment      : licensed Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons by the
Comment      : creator, Stewart C. Russell / - 23 March 2008

It’s also on flickr and Wikimedia Commons.

WindShare AGM

is tonight.

… and I wasn’t expecting to, but I ended up back on the board of directors of WindShare.

and I got to sing with the Raging Grannies!

WindShare: new site, stopped turbine

Windshare has a new website, which is nice. Unfortunately, the headline image shows a stopped turbine:

new windshare websiteIt’s kind of apt, given that the turbine’s been out of service for about a month. I liked the old days, when the turbine worked but the website was kinda crappy.

Rum Do At WindShare

WindShare‘s having a special general meeting tonight to discuss the following resolution:

Moved that the Board of WindShare recommends to the WindShare I membership at their general meeting of June 7, 2006, the merger of WindShare I and WindShare II for the purpose of entering into the activities necessary for the development of the proposed Lakewind Proposal.

This is quite an important step, and since I’m still in Pittsburgh, I’d hoped to vote by proxy. I was informed by the WindShare administrator that this wasn’t possible; the Cooperative Corporations Act does not allow proxy voting.
I’m annoyed by this, as it looks like WindShare is going to merge its capital with a 10MW project being built on a site with a 6.5 m/s mean wind speed. I wouldn’t develop a project on a site with this low a wind speed, so I asked the following of the board:

Can you clarify, please, that the vote can only be carried if a majority of WindShare members are present at the meeting? It would be grossly unfair if an important vote like this one was carried by a minority.

I would also like to have questions brought to the board, and if possible, the meeting itself. The LakeWind information package states that Bervie has “an average wind speed of 6.5m/s … making this an excellent site for Ontario”. I would not consider a site having this wind resource to be excellent, and it would certainly not be one that would attract a commercial developer. So my questions are:

  • Is it in the membership’s best interests to develop a relatively low wind site? WindShare made their political point with the ExPlace turbine, and now we must show that community wind is economically viable.
  • Would either of the potential sites be forced to curtail output when/if the extra Bruce units come online? While LakeWind would be connecting to local distribution, any generation in that area might be subject to queueing limitations.

So far, I’ve heard nothing, which makes me uneasy.

no standard offer goodness for WindShare

Tallking to the OPA today, it seems that WindShare doesn’t qualify for SOC because it’s behind ExPlace’s meter. Aargh!

Update: I got a call from the OPA; they were wrong. Grandfathered embedded generation such as the WindShare turbine will be eligible after all.

O turbine thou art sick

We had a component failure on the WindShare turbine today. Just when the winds have got really good, too. We know how to fix it, it’s just a matter of getting the people and the parts together.

queen west

Went to Canzine today after meeting. Can you belive it, an almost full house and it was a silent meeting?

Anyway, Canzine was full. Bought a couple of Spacing TTC buttons to show my commuter tribe affiliation (Kennedy — Union), and also a m@b book. Eveyone’s favourite Bramptonian Friendly Rich was there, being friendly and well-dressed. Jim Munroe looked in his element in his No Media Kings room.

After that, I walked down to the turbine. The warm weather had brought the ladybirds out. They were all over the deck.

Debunking the 25% Myth

My dad called yesterday, asking, “Wind turbines do run for more than 25% of the time, don’t they?”. Seems he read an opinion piece in his favourite fair ‘n’ balanced rag (The Telegraph) that said that wind turbines only run 25% of the time.

I see this factoid popping up more and more from the anti-wind crowd. It’s a particularly difficult one to refute in the press, as by the time you’ve tried to explain the difference between capacity factor and operation time, you’ve lost them. Or gone over your allotted time/word count, at least.

I’ve got a year’s production data from WindShare/Toronto Hydro‘s turbine in front of me. It’s on a marginal site, one that probably wouldn’t be developed by a commercial entity. So, does it run for more than 25% of the time?

Yes; the turbine is generating 63% of the time. I’ve defined generating as providing a net export of power to the grid. Our turbine’s a bit more cranky than most, and I have a suspicion that our metering system is dropping some production, but even so, 63% is way more than the claimed 25%. So it gives me great pleasure to say:

MYTH: Wind turbines only run for 25% of the time.
BUSTED! Wind turbines run at the very least 60% of the time, usually more.

(I can’t guarantee that Country Guardian won’t quote me out of context. I could make a cheap shot about not blaming them for their paymasters in the nuclear industry requiring value for money, but I won’t …)

half a turbine: wee deid speug

We found a dead sparrow (= speug, in Scots, pr. sp-yug) outside the front window when we took the recycling out. It had hit the window. Sorry, little dude.

So that’s me used six months of the avian mortality of the ExPlace wind turbine.