Eleven years ago, a lone $1.2-million wind turbine showed up on the shore of Lake Ontario, marooned between Lake Shore Boulevard West and an Exhibition Place parking lot. As tall as a 28-storey skyscraper, and each blade as long as a GO train car, nothing on the western half of Toronto’s skyline has stood out quite like it since.
» What’s it doing there in the first place?
Like all good wind turbines, it’s generating electricity: 762,513 kilowatt hours worth of it last year alone. (That’s enough to power 63.5 average Toronto households for an entire year or keep a 60-watt light bulb lit for one and a half millennia.) In a good year, it can generate more than 1,000,000 kilowatt hours.
» So how come I almost never see it turning?
It really depends on when you’re looking. According to Bob Leigh, who’s on the board of directors of WindShare, the co-op that owns the turbine with Toronto Hydro, “when people see the turbine, it’s probably in the summer and it’s probably during the day, and that’s when the winds are the lowest during the entire year.” (It’s also turned off for the air show.) It’s gustier when there’s less of an audience: A quarter of the energy it generated in 2010, for example, came in January and December alone.
» How much wind does it take to get it going, then?
Not much—anything over nine kilometres per hour is enough to get the turbine going. But the blades can only spin so fast. Any faster than one full turn every two seconds (which means the tip of each blade is going 224 kilometres per hour) puts too much stress on the machine, and it’s automatically switched to something like neutral. The fastest wind speeds the turbine can handle, between 83 and 90 kilometres per hour, are likeliest during a storm.
» Why doesn’t Toronto have more like it?
It’s not for lack of trying: WindShare’s plans for more turbines on the shore of Ashbridge’s Bay and on the CNE grounds have all come to naught. According to James Law of TREC Renewable Energy Co-operative, which helps run the turbine, “there isn’t much space we could develop that hasn’t been taken up.” And putting them in the lake isn’t an option either, since the provincial government ordered what was supposed to be a temporary stop to all off-shore wind-turbine development in February 2011, pending “further research.” For now, and for a while longer, the Ex’s turbine is it.
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