You may be a biologist, engineer or computer science expert, but if you are interested in making a career in renewable energy sector, then definitely wisdomjobs is here to guide you in this process. As the government and private organizations, both are ready to encourage the renewable energy resources, the number of jobs in this industry is also increasing. Innovations in renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal are made regularly, so that it can be used as alternative energy. Renewable energy jobs such as that of wind turbine technician, solar power installer or a clear car engineer are available. To know more about the job opportunities and other career related prospects, you can visit the wisdomjobs page. Here you will also find a few Renewable Energy job interview questions and answers that will help you to prepare well for your new job.
In 2011, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the Asthma Society of Canada and the Ontario Lung Association sponsored an advertising campaign that voiced this message: “Ontario doctors, nurses and other health professionals support energy conservation combined with wind and solar power, to help us move away from coal.”
Over 30 years of studies by protagonists and antagonists alike have failed to show scientific evidence that wind turbines are actually able to make people sick. Over 100,000 turbines are currently in operation throughout the world right now, mostly in Europe, many within a short walk of the owners’ homes.
Conversely, it is a well proven fact that burning coal causes the premature death of hundreds of Ontario residents, and debilitates those with asthma and other respiratory ailments. Similarly, there are multitudes of reports which conclusively demonstrate the dangers of nuclear energy, including a list of over 800 “incidents” such as Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and many less well known, including incidents at Elliot Lake and Pickering in Ontario. A growing body of local and international studies has repeated proven that wind energy poses no meaningful health risk to humans, and indeed wind plays an important role in helping us move away from more dangerous alternatives like coal and nuclear.
“Wind Turbine Syndrome”, or “Wind Sickness” has been reported by some residents who live near wind energy projects in Ontario but who do not own shares in the projects, and may include symptoms such as loss of sleep, headaches, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, and further symptoms resulting from sleep loss (eg: reduced memory, difficulty concentrating, diminished spatial memory or ability to think critically and problem solve).
These and other symptoms may multiply when third parties advise of their possibility (ie: the ‘nocebo’ effect), are typical of stress and anxiety related disorders which may be triggered by any number of unwanted experiences, and are common among people who feel that they have been disrespected or mistreated.
The reality is that there is no such thing as “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, but there are many stress and anxiety disorders. Wind turbines do not make people sick, but badly managed projects and anti-wind activists can cause stress to the neighbours. Residents should be wary of placing too much confidence in the accusations raised by anti-wind activists, and developers should be expected to respect local residents and address their concerns during the course of a project. This is why the Ontario government has placed requirements on wind energy projects that they have a certain number of public meetings whereat they present information and gather public feedback prior to proceeding with construction.
Interestingly, people who own their own turbines or who own shares in a shared community project have never complained about stress or anxiety related symptoms such as these.
Properly installed wind turbines are not a threat to birds, bats, or other avian life. For every 10,000 birds killed by human activities annually, less than 1 is caused by a wind turbine. By contrast, nearly 1,000 are caused by house cats, nearly 1,000 are caused by automobiles, and nearly 6,000 are caused by collisions with windows on buildings. That means that the living room window on your home is nearly 6,000 times more dangerous to a bird than a properly installed wind turbine.
To be fair, it is true that a poorly installed wind turbine can kill birds. That is why the Ministry of the Environment has strict guidelines about requiring bird migration and habitat studies, and why the wind industry in Canada has developed best practices over the past 30 years to minimize the likelihood that this will occur. The reports that are most commonly quoted as proof that wind turbines kill birds are typically done in reference to US based projects like Altamont Pass where turbines were installed in ways that are no longer permitted in Canada, and we have not experienced the same trouble here. The Wolfe Island project near Kingston has had an unfortunate history that has resulted in policy changes in Ontario to ensure similar mistakes are not repeated, and our policies continue to improve to better protect avian life. Every new project is safer than the last.
By contrast, birds are very vulnerable to habitat alteration caused by climate change, which affects entire flocks and species and poses a far greater risk than wind turbines. The 2004 study in Nature estimated that up to a quarter of all bird species could become extinct by 2054 due to global climate change. Wind turbines, when properly installed in ways that comply with both the law and the industry’s best experience, are part of the solution to climate change, and are an indirect help to bird and wildlife protection.
Climate change is already causing more severe weather patterns in most climate zones around the globe, and is becoming increasingly severe with each passing season. Future expected impacts of climate change are often better described as “global wierding”: hot regions will get hotter, some regions will get slightly colder, wet regions will get wetter, dry regions will get dryer, … and everywhere will see an increase in the severity and frequency of natural disasters. Climate refugees are already the largest percentage of refugees in the world. Future climate related disasters will include heat waves, floods, forest fires and hurricanes, and changing coastlines. The loss of human life is an inevitable and very disturbing reality. In the face of the prediction that most of the world’s coastal cities will be submerged in a hundred year’s time, all the concerns raised thus far about wind turbines pale by comparison. Wind energy is one of many forms of renewable energy, all of which are urgently needed if we are to do our part in the race against climate change.
Ontario’s government has, for decades now, subsidized the use of coal and nuclear based electricity. The damage caused by coal alone costs our health system a reported $3 billion annually in Ontario. Burning coal killed 316 people last year in Ontario, according to The Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which also estimates that 440 people were admitted to hospital, 522 people sought help in the emergency ward, and 158,000 people were sickened with such ailments as asthma attacks. According to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, 9,000 people die prematurely each year in Ontario from smog, to which coal is a significant contributor.
However, the Ontario government has recognized the need to reduce dependency on coal power generation and has closed several coal plants already, partly because of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.
To be cliché, nuclear’s back yard is much bigger than that of wind energy. Radiation from the Fukushima meltdowns has been reported all around the globe, and is causing crop and animal sicknesses on the US west coast. Chernobyl has caused over 200,000 deaths, and many millions of illnesses (cancers and otherwise), most from radiation related sicknesses in people that did not live close to the accident site (ie: many in Ukraine and Belarus, but also as far away as Germany, France, and even the UK). While a small group of people complain that noisy windmills are disrupting their sleep and giving them headaches (note that these complaints never come from people who actually own turbines), those living adjacent to the same water bodies as nuclear plants (even up to several hundred kilometers away) risk infertility, multiple forms of cancer, and radiation sickness, and those within even a few hundred kilometers of a gas or coal generator risk suffering from poisoned water, lung disease, and asthma. The tragic truth is that hundreds of people die every year in Ontario because of the coal and nuclear components of our energy system. Wind energy is not killing people. Replacing coal and nuclear with a mix of other sources, including wind energy, can actually save lives.
If the electricity grid were a car, then we could describe it this way: during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, we were paying the lease on our brand new car. It worked well, needed little maintenance, and was seen as a reasonable expense. After we paid the lease off, we still had a relatively new car that was very inexpensive to own, and required little maintenance. But, like all cars, it eventually either needs maintenance or will need to be replaced, and we’ll end up paying to fix it or to replace it. In Ontario we’ve put off properly maintaining this “car”, and our electrical system is now going to be very expensive to fix. The most recent Liberal government began those fixes (that’s part of why utility rates have increased in recent years), but previous governments of all stripes (Conservative and Liberal) had their share in neglecting the grid until it came to the relatively poor condition it’s in now. No matter what we build or repair over the next decades, we will have new grid infrastructure worked into our electricity prices, and we will either pay for it on our utility bill as $/kWh, or it will be subsidized by the government, and we’ll end up paying for it somehow through taxes.
It is rumored that the Green Energy Act is responsible for rising electricity bills. This is simply not true. The average Ontarian pays $0.13/kWh for their electricity, and most of the recent increases are due to upgrades for our aging transmission system, the largest portion of which is earmarked to help the privately managed Bruce Nuclear Plant (ie: our public tax dollars are paying to help this private corporation make more money off of us all). In fact, the Ontario Energy Board recently reported that only 6% of the increase in Ontario’s average price of electricity is due to renewables: 45% is from nuclear, and the remainder is spread across gas/coal/large hydro and system improvements. Of the $0.13/kWh paid by the average consumer, $0.002 was enough to cover all the renewable energy currently connected to our grid system: only 1.5% of the bill! That includes wind, solar, and everything else, at only 1.5% of our electricity bill. Wind and solar are not causing our electricity rates to rise: nuclear rebuilds and transmission upgrades are.
Ontario’s electricity system works like a big black box: energy is purchased from many different sellers (generators), is funneled through the black box, and is then sold to many different buyers (consumers). The black box in the middle is partly called the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), and is partly the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). The OPA has unique purchase agreements with each of the many generators, from nuclear plants to Niagara Falls to homes with solar panels on them. Many of these agreements are very different from each other, and have little to do with the rate that we actually pay for electricity: these purchases are all blended together into the OPA’s budget, and the OPA pays for them quite separately from the way they sell the power to the rest of Ontario. Similarly, the OPA has agreements with each buyer: large companies like cement plants may connect to the grid directly and pay under certain rules, while Local municipal utility Distribution Companies (LDC’s) connect to the grid and pay under different rules, and then the LDC’s resell their electricity within their municipality to local consumers like small businesses and home owners. The OPA/IESO have a tough job: in the middle of all this confusion, their job is to make sure that there is always the right amount of electricity to keep the lights on and the factories running: neither too much electricity, nor too little. When we all get home from work and turn on our stoves to cook supper, the OPA/IESO buy more electricity to make sure our stoves will work. When we all go to bed and turn everything off for the night, the OPA/IESO buy less.
The problem with this system is that some of the companies that sell electricity to the OPA can’t simply turn off, or turn down the amount that they sell. Nuclear companies are the biggest example of this, because you can’t just turn off a nuclear reactor for the night (it takes several months to cool down and then ramp up again safely, and needs significant maintenance in between), and once it’s on, it doesn’t have an option to be turned up or down: it’s simply on or off. Ontario as a province is using less electricity than we did in 2006, so we now regularly have nights where our nuclear plants are generating enough electricity that even after we have turned off everything else, there’s still so much electricity being pumped into the grid that the nuclear plants are producing more than we need, and we have to get rid of the extra, or else that extra electricity will literally melt and burn things. In moments like these, when our supply exceeds our demand, the OPA pays other jurisdictions like the US to consume our electricity.
Some Ontarians blame this excess supply on wind energy, but the numbers show that wind energy doesn’t tend to produce very much during the night: wind peaks when the temperature is changing (ie: sunrise and sunset, where changes in light create changes in air pressure which creates wind), so wind energy tends to be available when we need it most: in the morning peak before work and the evening peak during supper and laundry time. The times that we pay other jurisdictions to use our electricity are always in the middle of the night when we can’t turn down our nuclear plants. And unfortunately these times happen much more often than we would like.
To solve this problem, we would need to decommission one of our nuclear plants (one would be enough, but nothing else, not even all of Ontario’s wind supply, would suffice), and replace it with more flexible power that we can turn down at night. Refer to questions (Q28), (Q29), (Q30) and (Q39) below for more information on ways that we could use less nuclear and a larger mix of renewables and flexible (dispatchable) supply sources instead.
A Feed-in Tariff (FIT) is a policy mechanism (an instrument of law) designed to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources and to help accelerate the move toward grid parity (when renewable energy sources will have the same costs as traditional sources of electricity such as natural gas, coal, or nuclear).
FITs typically includes three key provisions:
FITs are designed to help standardize the way electricity is purchased from generators before being distributed to consumers. Traditional energy markets have a number of creative subsidies and revenue offsets that enable market operators (like the Independent Electrical System Operator in Ontario) to sell electricity to consumers at artificially low rates, like the rates we have in Ontario. Renewable energy systems rarely have access to these subsidies, so they sell at true rates, rather than artificial rates, and the market is biased towards traditional energy sources (like coal, natural gas, and nuclear) which would otherwise be much more expensive. FITs are designed to level the playing field, and to give renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro and biomass/biogas, the opportunity to sell competitively. If sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear were purchased through a FIT rather than being subsidized, they would likely have tariff rates between $0.15 and $0.45/kWh, not the $0.055 to $0.095/kWh that Ontarians expect.
No. FITs do not subsidize the purchase or installation of the equipment used to produce renewably generated electricity, nor do FIT payments come from taxpayers. Subsidies are creative payment schemes used to offset or reduce the true of electricity, and are typically funded by tax payers rather than by electricity consumers (eg: certain corporate tax credits/exemptions and research tax credits for natural gas fracking), much like the way we pay for construction of coal/nuclear/gas plants, or the disposal of nuclear waste, separately from buying the electricity.
Feed-in-Tariffs are an all-in nothing-hidden price for electricity as it is delivered: it’s called a “tariff” because it doesn’t get paid until the electricity is used. Other forms of electricity are heavily subsidized by many different collaborative funding mechanisms (some estimates top $3.5 Trillion/yr globally). Renewable energy that is purchased through a FIT contract has a fully disclosed price that is paid only on delivery: if no electricity is delivered, then they don’t get paid, and regardless, they get no subsidies.
No. A FIT contract is just that – a contract. It is legally binding and cannot be changed without the consent of all parties who signed the contract. If you sign up for a PV contract and put solar panels on your roof, you will get what the contract says you will get until the contract expires in 20 years. The government can change what it offers to new applicants, but once a contract is issued, it is stable and will not change.
Yes and No. Several European countries have had Feed-In Tariff (FIT) programs of their own for decades now, and those programs have been so successful that they have helped the local renewable energy industry to grow, and now renewable energy in those places is less expensive to install than it once was. The purpose of a FIT is to assist in increasing the volume of renewable energy deployed so that the cost of installation drops down towards parity, where renewable energy sources will be able to compete evenly with more traditional technologies. Old contracts will not have their rates changed, but new contracts will be offered less as the cost of renewable energy systems goes down. Eventually when the cost to produce renewable energy reaches parity, the FIT program will no longer be necessary. Ontario’s FIT program was established with an automatic 2 year review period: it was launched in 2009 and planned from the beginning to see prices reduced at the close of 2011 and again in 2013 and bi-annually thereafter. Ontario has the advantage of not being first into this market, and has been able to accelerate our market development based on the lessons we have been able to learn from other jurisdictions around the world who have successfully implemented FIT systems of their own: it is very likely that Ontario pricing will be able to be reduced more quickly than other jurisdictions have been able to do.
Whatever energy we use, someone will get paid. Most of our electricity is generated by one of a few large companies, like Bruce Nuclear or Ontario Power Generation. Bruce Nuclear is a private firm, and the money that Ontarians pay to them goes to their shareholders. Ontario often needs to import power from our neighbor provinces and states, and in those cases Ontario tax dollars are paid to outside parties, and the money leaves Ontario.
Instead of paying for imported electricity or paying corporate shareholders, the Green Energy and Green Economy Act enables us to pay ordinary Ontario citizens to produce clean electricity for us, while creating thousands of skilled, local jobs. The money stays in Ontario, and after being used to pay Ontario people, it gets spent again in Ontario to buy groceries and other goods, and that same money typically gets spent and respent seven times before it leaves the province (for purchasing imported goods). This means that every $1 we spend buying electricity from an Ontarian actually creates $7 worth of in-province trade, and it stimulates the economy. Rather than giving the money away to big corporations or outside parties, we can spend it on ourselves, over and over again. That means that we can afford to pay slightly higher rates (up to 7 times higher) for the same electricity, if we pay it to Ontarians, and especially if those Ontarians are selling us electricity which they made with Ontario-made solar panels, or Ontario-made wind turbines.
An estimated 20,000 skilled, local jobs have already been created by the Green Energy and Green Economy Act. These jobs include Ontarians who are manufacturing things like solar panels and wind turbines, Ontarian contractors who are installing them, Ontarian consultants and safety inspectors who are supporting the process, and Ontarian land owners who sell us the electricity: all because every dollar we pay them for their electricity recycles itself over and over again in our economy, making more trade and making more jobs.
This rumour was spread from an illegitimate study done in Spain, not supported by the Spanish government, funded ultimately by oil money, and has come to be known as the infamous “Spanish jobs study”. The study included several faulty assumptions and weak data which it used to claim that for the amount of money invested by the Spanish government in wind and solar energy projects, that a certain number of jobs were created, and that a multiple of other jobs were displaced from other industries (eg: coal and nuclear jobs).
There was no data to support these claims though, and the Spanish government went on public record saying that the study was unfounded and false. The Spanish market has seen a substantial net increase in employment because of their renewable energy laws, and it is simply untrue to say otherwise. The US government and several others have since disproven the study repeatedly, and reiterated that this study is false. Even still, this false study has been circulated widely in anti-wind and anti-solar lobby groups across North America, several of whom have received support funding from Exon and other equally questionable sources. Similarly false claims abound about Italy, which is now one of the top three European countries in the renewable energy industries, and has enjoyed steady net job growth. Still further claims (equally false)
In Ontario, every dollar invested in solar energy creates 12 times more jobs than nuclear and 15 times more jobs than natural gas or coal per unit of energy produced, and at 1/4th to 1/6th the cost of jobs created by nuclear, natural gas, or coal. Solar is the most expensive technology among those supported by the Green Energy Act, and the other technologies offer strong job creation statistics as well.
Some Ontario agencies have copied the infamous and false “Spanish Jobs Study” (see Q14), and have alleged that these green energy jobs are costing Ontario as much as $170k/yr/job. This is completely false and is badly overstated. The total amount of money paid by the Ontario government for electricity from all sources of renewable energy combined in 2010 was approximately $270 million, which helped create nearly 20,000 jobs thus far. That works out to only $13.5k/job on average, which is far cheaper than what we pay for nuclear or natural gas jobs, and even compares well with infrastructure jobs. Not only that, but these are good jobs: manufacturing, consulting, and contracting positions, and all for a fraction of what the jobs contribute back to the economy: The income tax collected from these new jobs nearly pays for the jobs to be created, and from that point of view, these jobs are costing the government very little indeed, between $6k/job and $zero in the end.
$0.80/kWh may seem expensive, but it’s important to know what else to compare it to. Consumers don’t pay this price: it gets blended in with the other purchases that the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) makes before they charge us the net fees, and this $0.80/kWh price represents less than 0.001% of the bill, and all future solar projects will cost less as the prices continues to decline (already down to $0.549/kWh in 2012). Many Ontarians believe that we get nuclear electricity for $0.03 to $0.05/kWh, but this is not quite true. That may be what your local utility charges you for the electricity, but that’s not what it actually costs. We also pay for the nuclear plants to be built, even when they will be owned by private corporations, and then we pay to buy electricity from them, and we pay for the waste to be managed, and we pay for insurance (ever increasing since Fukushima, since so many countries have declared that they are transitioning away from nuclear, and since large companies like Siemens and GE have stopped selling reactors). Nuclear electricity costs us more like $0.25 - $0.35/kWh right now, but that price is hidden and blended into the net price we pay, after several tax subsidies are applied from other budgets, making it very difficult to expose the true cost. The OPA pays different rates for different purchases on a regular basis, and many of those rates are governed by the “spot market”, or the hourly supply & demand market where the price varies up and down depending on how much electricity is available and on how many users want to consume it. Spot market prices are typically highest in the afternoon and early evening when the sun is shining brightest, so solar should never be compared with the cheapest electricity we buy, but should always be compared with the most expensive peak rates that the OPA pays instead: as much as $2.00/kWh as reported by Ernst & Young (see references below).
Next it’s important to consider the actual economic impact of the price paid for solar, since we don’t pay the rate directly (just like we don’t pay by the kWh to build a nuclear plant or manage its waste: those fees are covered in other ways). The money spent buying solar energy gets paid to Ontario home owners, who spend the money on groceries and commodities, contributing to the local economy. The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association notes that these moneys tend to circulate a minimum of 7 times in the local economy before disappearing in tax levies or imports, so the money gets reused 7 times before disappearing, and the effective cost to the economy is reduced to 1/7th the ticket price. That means that $0.802/kWh for local Ontario solar electricity has a true effective cost to the economy of closer to $0.115/kWh, which is less than the $0.13/kWh already paid by the average Ontario consumer. Remember that we don’t pay the ticket price: the OPA blends all the different ticket prices together, and we end up paying the effective price after several other subsidies and economic factors have been considered. Properly considered, because of the local economic stimulus benefit, solar is actually cheaper for the OPA than business as usual.
No. Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy (2011), and several reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have demonstrated that if we were to start building new nuclear plants today, then by the time we finish them (typically ~10 years later), solar energy will already cost less per kWh generated and sold:
solar will have reached grid parity, and will be competing dollar for dollar with nuclear and other energy sources. That will be 2020 in America, or 2017 in the EU, or 2015 in China. The Nuclear Energy Agency recently (June 2012) quoted a cost of $5.86/W to construct new nuclear facilities in the Czech republic: that’s the same cost Ontarians would pay for solar PV, and is more than double what we’d pay for new wind energy, and more recent nuclear projects (Finland and the UK) are reporting substantial increases in cost due to new insurance premiums and other technical precautions that have become standard since Fukushima.
Even today, a comparison of building renewable energy based generators or new nuclear reactors found that renewables would be significantly less expensive than new nuclear: $0.135/ kWh on average for renewables vs. $0.19 - $0.37/ kWh for new nuclear. Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone over schedule and over budget to an average of 250%, which is then paid by taxpayers. The nuclear industry also has hidden subsidies that support radioactive waste disposal and insurance. A Queen’s University study found that insurance costs are at least $33 million per nuclear plant per year. Nuclear plants can’t be built without heavy insurance, and especially since Fukushima, these costs are only going up. Ontarians are still paying for past nuclear cost overruns too, and these costs continue to burden future nuclear projects: We have collectively made over $19 billion in payments on the former Ontario Hydro’s “stranded debt” and still owe more than $14 billion more. The upgrades at the Bruce Nuclear Station have already burdened taxpayers $237.5 million in overrun costs, while also requiring major grid upgrades, which together are responsible for a significant portion of the recent electricity rate increases across the province. Nuclear has never been cheap, and is only getting more expensive. Solar and other renewables are continually getting cheaper.
Ontario purchases power from various different technologies in various different ways, and it would be much easier for the public to understand if we were to compare them all directly. The biggest difference in how we pay for the various power generation technologies is whether we pay for them up front, over time, or both.
Nuclear energy is purchased both up front and over time: we the public pay for the construction of new nuclear power plants up front through our taxes, and then we buy the electricity over time as we use it. The debt retirement charge we still see on our electrical bills is helping to pay off the loan the Province used to construct our last round of nuclear plants. The most recent nuclear quote in Ontario was $26 billion to construct a 2,400 MW plant (Darlington), which would generate approximately 18.9 TWh of electricity per year, or enough for ~2,000,000 homes (assuming 100% output and 90% availability, which is more than we’ve ever experienced in Ontario, but this is what the nuclear industry believes new reactors will be able to deliver). The price of nuclear energy after construction is the ongoing price it takes to operate and insure the nuclear plants: $0.06/kWh of electricity sold to the grid for existing plants, ~$0.16/kWh to ~$0.35/kWh for new plants yet to be built, or even higher according to some reports. There are other tax subsidies used to cover the management of nuclear waste, but that is separate, and is not clearly reflected in the price per kWh.
If we were to build wind turbines to generate the same amount of electricity as that nuclear project, then it would require 8,600 MW of turbines (which typically deliver at 28% of their rated capacity net over the year, and at 97+% availability: ~2,200 kWh/kW/yr in Ontario), at a net installation cost of $17.2 billion at today’s rates, without any of the bulk savings that would be very likely for an order this large. Operations and maintenance (O&M) costs are what drive the ongoing price of electricity, and wind energy tends to cost 4% of purchase costs ongoing, or ~$0.036/kWh in this case. Compared to $0.06/kWh (for old nuclear, where new nuclear would cost more), this means that wind energy would save tax payers 34% of the initial installation cost, would save consumers a minimum of a further $9.1 trillion over the 20 year life of the turbines, and would further avoid the costs and liabilities of managing nuclear waste. This savings would more than pay for upgrades and replacements to extend the life of the turbines to match or exceed the life of the nuclear plant, compounding the savings into the perpetual future.
If we instead consider solar, then it would take ~16,500 MW of solar PV panels, running at an average of 15% efficiency and 98+% availability (generating an average of 1,150 kWh per kW installed per year in Ontario without any fancy tracking/concentrating hardware), with a net installation cost of $50-55 billion, and ongoing maintenance costs of ~$0.001/kWh for 35-40 years before the panels need to be replaced.
Yes, if the projects are owned by local community members or local businesses. Ontario has the highest level
of community ownership of renewable energy in all of North America because of the Green Energy Act. That means that Ontario has more farmers and home owners who can generate their own electricity and sell it to the grid, than anywhere else in North America. Whether it’s solar panels on a church, hospital or community centre, or windmills on the farm, revenue earned from renewable energy stays in the community.
Talk on the street is very mixed in some communities, but actual studies have shown that wind turbines have either no effect or a slightly positive effect on property values. One study analyzed property values in a fivemile radius of wind farms across the US, including rural New York, and found that property values actually increased faster near wind farms 87% of the time compared to other nearby communities. Chatham-Kent and the Erie Shores municipalities in Ontario have experienced this same thing.
Anecdotal experience has shown that property values may decrease temporarily during the time between when a new wind farm has been announced and when the construction is complete, and that opportunist buyers may offer insultingly low purchase prices to homeowners who express frustration about a planned wind farm or highway or any other type of construction (ie: if you broadcast that you hate your location when trying to move, then unscrupulous buyers may try to exploit you with unfair purchase prices), but reports are showing clearly that real estate values stay strong and continue to grow after wind farms are built.
To answer this question properly for your area, you’ll need to consider what the various factors are that affect property values, and ultimately most of those have to do with the purchaser: people’s personal preferences may lead them to wish to avoid turbines, or to relocate closer to them. Both groups of people exist in Ontario. Properties which gain rent from local turbines will immediately see an increase in their value. Other local properties may appreciate less quickly.
Noise can be measured with special meters: the noise from a commercial sized wind turbine at the nearest noise receptor (such as a house that is just outside the legally required setback distance from the turbine) will be no more than 38 dB. This volume is similar to a quiet library. 44 dB is like the sound of a bird chirping, 60 dB is the sound of a normal conversation, and nearby traffic can range from 50-100 dB. Commercial scale wind turbines are quiet: typically quieter than the wind.
The government of Ontario has established several setback requirements for wind turbines. If wind turbines are larger than 50kW rated, or are able to be louder than 102dBA, or if there are more than 5 turbines within 3km of any particular noise receptor (eg: a house), then the proposed turbines may be required to undergo a noise study which may affect the setback requirements for the project, or they may skip the noise study by increasing the setback requirements. Otherwise, the standard setback requirement of 550m from any receptor (eg: a house) applies to all receptors except those who have specifically granted permission for the turbine to be closer (eg: if you own your own turbine then you may give yourself permission to install the turbine closer than 550m to your house).
“Infrasound” is sound that has a frequency which is so low that you cannot hear it audibly with your ear. It is sometimes referred to simply as “low frequency noise”, or incorrectly as “sub-sonic” noise, but the term “subsonic” more correctly refers to speed, not audible noise.
Infrasound is given off by vehicles moving along roads, by doors closing, by standing objects such as trees and buildings when wind blows past them, or by many types of animals (eg: whales calling through the ocean or elephants communicating across the plains), and by wind turbines. The levels of low frequency noise emitted by any of these (traffic, trees, animals, wind turbines) is measureable: wind turbines emit at a level similar to that given off by trees at similar distances, so wind turbines are no more dangerous than trees as an infrasound emitter. Most homes have trees and roads closer to them than the minimum wind turbine setback of 550m, and the infrasound generated in these closer proximities is stronger than you will ever experience from a wind turbine 550m away. Further still, infrasound is approved for use in therapeutic massage at levels that exceed those produced by typical wind turbines.
Concerns have been expressed in the past about some older style industrial machinery (picture big engines that rumble when they run) which used to make low-frequency noise. Employees working with heavy machinery that continually emits low-frequency noise may (over time) experience undesirable health impacts from the noise exposure, such as hearing loss for example. Wind turbines are essentially a generator that is forced to turn by the wind, and generators are essentially motors forced to run backwards: older wind turbine technology (~30 years ago) used older motor technology that in some select cases was later found to emit low-frequency noise. These cases were relatively rare, but have since been corrected regardless, and wind turbines have not been known to emit any significant levels of low-frequency noise for over a decade now. The only infra-sound that you will likely ever be exposed to in your lifetime is the same as that emitted
by trees, traffic, animals, and doors closing near you. Many stereo amplifiers and surround-sound home theatre systems even emit low-frequency noise, and our kids call it “bass”.
Infrasound from wind turbines is not a concern. If it was, then roads, trees and doors would be a health concern too.
No. Wind Turbines are essentially big industrial motors that run backwards (ie: using wind to spin the rotor to generate electricity rather than using electricity to spin the motor to move a machine), and they are very efficient. In order to be permitted to sell a wind turbine in Canada, turbine manufacturers are required to have their equipment meet certain CSA standards and be installed in a way that complies with our electrical safety codes. Modern wind turbine technology does not make noisy/unstable power, and if it did, it would never get approved by either the CSA or the Ontario Electrical Safety Authority.
Under exactly the right conditions, it is possible for ice to form on turbine blades. However, like airplane wings need to be ‘de-iced’ to perform properly, turbine blades become inefficient when their aerodynamic shape is changed by a coating of ice, and they slow down and eventually stop. Wind turbine technology has evolved substantially over the past 30 years, and modern designs include several strategies to prevent ice buildup: some use heating elements in the blades, some use sensors to detect buildup and shut down the turbine, and others use blade materials that are specially designed to not receive water (ie: ice simply can’t attach to the blade, so it can’t build up).
“Stray Voltage” is the result of a poorly wired electrical system, and is one of many reasons why we have electrical codes (the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, Distribution System Code, and Transmission System Code). In Ontario, the law requires that any new project installed and connected to the electrical grid must first be installed using government approved equipment (eg: equipment certified by the Canadian Standards Association), designed by license professionals (eg: Professional Engineers), installed by licensed tradesmen (eg: licensed Electricians, Millwrights, etc), and inspected by licensed inspectors (eg: the Electrical Safety Authority). Wind turbines cannot be connected to the grid without meeting all of these requirements. Stray voltage is caused when an electrical device such as a motor, industrial control system, or wind turbine is connected to the grid improperly (more specifically, stray voltage occurs when electrical systems are not grounded properly), and in a way that violates the Electrical Safety Code and/or Distribution System Code.
To answer more succinctly, “stray voltage” is a concern, and we have laws in Ontario to prevent it. Wind turbines do not cause stray voltage: bad electrical workmanship does, and Ontario law requires that licensed government inspectors must approve every wind turbine installation before it may be turned on.
EMF stands for “electro-magnetic field” or “electromotive force” (which are different, but deeply related things), and is essentially the hidden magnetic radiation all around us that emits from the sun, from home electronics, from cell phone towers, and from the alternator in your car engine. EMF is one of the fundamental building blocks of nature, like gravity, and is what holds atoms together in all living things. All electronic technologies work because of clever uses of EMF.
The driver and front seat passenger sitting about 1.5m from the average car alternator receives more than 12 times greater exposure to EMF (from the vehicle alternator) than a home owner would receive from a 2MW wind turbine set back 550m. At large power stations, workers are regularly within 5-10 meters of electrical generators that are many hundreds of times more powerful than a 2 MW wind turbine at 550 meters from residential communities. The EMF emitted by the turbine in downtown Toronto is smaller at only 10’ away than the EMF emitted by a household hair dryer. EMF is an important part of life, and the EMF emitted from wind turbines is nothing to be concerned about.
No. Even if we were to multiply five-fold the number of wind turbines installed in Ontario over the next three years, wind energy would still supply less than 20% of our electrical grid. 20-30% is what several international communities consider an ideal contribution by wind power, and the rest of our grid would be a mix of things like hydro (Niagara Falls), biomass, combined heat and power from natural gas or biogas, and to a lesser degree, things like solar. Some nations in Europe are working towards generating as much as 60% of their electricity from wind. Swings in wind power production can easily be managed just like the rest of the electrical system. The current method for managing swings in production or demand in Ontario is based on dispatchable power supplies like (1) coal, (2) hydro-electric plants which maintain reservoirs of water that can run through water turbines at any time to produce electricity (we can turn them on/ off in milliseconds), and (3) natural gas “peaker” plants that can top up power requirements upon demand. In less than a second, the province can already turn up the power we get from water, coal or gas to make up for lack of wind, and then turn it back down again when the wind picks up.
In addition, there are many types of energy storage that are inexpensive and are already successfully in use in Canada, such as water-pumping technology, where wind is used to power pumps which push water uphill into reservoirs or storage towers where it can then be used to power water turbines when the wind is not blowing. For future use, researchers are developing advanced battery and other technology that will allow for mass power storage which is much more efficient than any other type of mass power storage currently available. Turbines could charge the batteries on windy days for storage and use on calmer days. Wind already works very well today as part of a supply mix, and these future storage opportunities will make it work even better.
This question is basically the same as (Q28) above. The answer is “No”, for at least two reasons. First, wind energy is intermittent, so it needs to be married to dispatchable power sources such as hydro (water) or biogas. Norway uses hydro power to complement wind generation with great success: we can do the same with our vast hydro sources (eg: Niagara Falls, Quebec, Manitoba, and more). Dispatchable power sources can be turned on/off in milliseconds, so that users will never experience a power shortage or overage.
Second, natural gas is just one form of dispatchable power, and just one form of gas supply. Biogas is another that is 98% the same as natural gas, and is much more preferable environmentally. Hydro power is another (and one that we have a lot of), and so is stored power, whether stored in capacitor banks, batteries, waterpumped into reservoirs, or any other method of storing electrical energy for future use.
Wind can’t provide a full grid worth of electrical power on its own, but wind makes a very reliable supply that performs predictably with minimal maintenance, and its intermittency is easily managed by complimenting it with other dispatchable sources. Ontario has sufficient dispatchable supply to accommodate a relatively large mix of wind energy already, which far exceeds the amount of wind energy harvesting currently planned for installation here.
Ontario’s electricity supply mix varies from day to day, but is approximately 50% nuclear (~10,000 MW), 25% natural gas (~5,000 MW), 15% hydro (~3,000 MW), 2% coal (~350 MW), 1% wind (~200 MW), and 1% other renewables (landfill gas, biomass, solar, etc). Wind and solar energy make up a very small fraction of what’s presently on our grid, even when generating at their full output.
For greater clarity, the “supply mix” really only refers to the generation that we’re presently using in Ontario.
Our grid has a heafty margin of backup equipment connected and ready at all times, and those numbers are a little different: 33% of what’s connected to our grid is nuclear (~11,500MW), 29% is natural gas (~10,000 MW), 23% is hydro (~8,000 MW), 10% is coal (~3,500 MW), 4.4% is wind (~1,500 MW), and 0.4% is other renewables like landfill gas, biomass and solar (~200 MW).
A properly installed wind turbine in Ontario should generate electricity between 25 and 35% of the time.
Wind tends to blow most during shifts in the amount of visible sunshine: sunlight brings heat which changes air pressure which creates wind. Wind turbines tend to idle in the middle of the day when the sun is steady or in the dead of the night when the air is still.
All forms of electricity power generation have what’s called a “Capacity Factor”, or a number that tells you how much of the time they should be generating electricity. Typical capacity factors for wind energy are between 25 and 35%, PV ranges between 10-20%, hydro is ~45%, nuclear varies between 60 – 80%, etc.
This is precisely the reason that utility grids need to be planned. On their own, wind and solar energy could not power 100% of our electricity needs: Germany and Denmark will both shortly have >50% of their power from wind and solar, but the rest of their mix is provided by other complimentary sources. In Ontario, we would use dispatchable power (power that is easily turned on or off when needed) like hydro and natural gas to make-up the rest of our supply mix. That said, wind and solar combined are presently less than 5% of our supply, and will be for some time yet: more than 10 times more supply is available in dispatchable power here, so the intermittency of wind and solar are not a problem in Ontario, and won’t be until we have much more wind and solar energy connected to our grid.
There are important differences between “reliability” and “intermittency”: wind and solar energy systems are very reliable, but they are also intermittent. “Intermittent” means that they are not always available (eg: when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing). Wind technology is based on simple motors that are used around the world in many industries very reliably, and wind turbines consistently have availability of over 97%: that means that they are more than 97% reliable, and will be working when the wind is blowing.
Some of that last 3% is when the wind is blowing so strongly that the wind turbine must turn or throttle itself down in order to not be torn apart by the wind, so the machines themselves are very reliable (>97%). Solar energy is even more reliable: over 98% available. The maintenance logs for wind turbines and solar panels are relatively boring. That’s a sign of reliability. For comparison, nuclear reactors are not intermittent at all (they generate very consistent and inflexible outputs, which is why they can’t be used for dispatchable power the way that hydro and natural gas can), but they are sometimes unreliable: Ontario has approximately 14,000 MW of nuclear reactors presently, but only ~11,500 MW are in use, because the other 2,500 MW have been shut down for safety reasons (see the “Farlinger Report” in the 2nd and 3rd reference links below).
NAV Canada and Transport Canada require that any structures above a certain height and within a certain distance of airfields or air traffic routes must have signal lights installed on the highest unmoving portion of their structure as a warning to local air traffic. This rule is the same for cell-phone towers, buildings, television and radio broadcast towers, wind turbines, and more. Each wind energy project is required to apply to both NAV Canada and Transport Canada to determine whether they need flashing signal lights, and the government decides when these lights are required: they are not universally required, and they may or may not be needed in any given project.
Turbines in Ontario are typically contracted to sell clean power to our grid for 20 years, and will likely last well beyond this. At the end of its useful life, what happens to the turbine will depend on who owns it: if the turbine is on rented land then the rental lease agreement will include terms that describe what happens to the turbine. If the turbine is owned by the same person who owns the land, then they may do with it as they wish: recycle it, refurbish it to extend its service life, or replace it with updated technology.
Most modern PV systems are guaranteed to last at least 20 years, and experience has shown that many will still be generating >50% of their rated output after 40 years (ie: not “good as new”, but still generating reliably), so it is certainly valid to consider what impact a PV project might have on your future ability to resurface your roof. In the ideal case, PV projects should only be installed on roofs that are rated to last another 20 years, such as young roofs that have been updated within the last 5 years, or more durable roofs that still have ~20 years left out of their expected service life. Standard residential roofs are rated to last between 20 and 50 years depending on the shingling products used, and commercial roofs have similarly broad ranges in lifespan, again depending on the surfacing products used. The PV itself will shield the roof from the sun’s rays, and ultraviolet light from the sun is the chief agent that causes most roofing materials to degrade over time, so PV will typically extend the life of most roofs, especially asphalt shingles or modified
Ontario is one of the only places in the world where we call electricity “hydro”, and that’s because all of our electricity was once generated from small hydro dams, literally thousands of them, located everywhere throughout the province. “Hydro” means “water”. When Ontario began to experiment with a large centralized grid, it became necessary to have a central operator coordinate that grid, so Ontario Hydro was created as a publically owned mega-utility to coordinate all our power needs.
Ontario Hydro evolved quite naturally toward wanting to manage fewer generators that were increasingly large and could serve more and more communities from fewer and fewer supply sources, until “Ontario Hydro” went broke and needed to be deregulated, and we eventually ended up with the grid we have now: large and fragile, where the 1998 ice storm caused severe and extended power outages, or where one nuclear reactor needing maintenance means that we need to import power for 6 months, or where one technician missing the wrong warning signal somewhere in Ohio caused the 2003 blackout of Ontario and the whole northeastern US, or… or we could just go back to having many smaller, less expensive and more manageable generators all over Ontario, and if any of them needs to be taken offline and serviced, then the grid as a whole will continue to work fine without it.
Community Power is built from the desire to help local communities control their own power supply as much as is reasonably possible. Local control means letting local people generate and sell electricity to other local people, in a fair and regulated way. The Green Energy Act makes all of this possible, and is helping us move away from the fragilities of a mega-grid, back towards the increased stability and flexibility of a distributed grid, all built on the principle of going local. As an added benefit, tools like the Green Energy Act not only enable communities to generate their own power, but in doing so they also help depoliticize the grid:
Ontario’s electrical grid is in serious disrepair right now after several decades of government neglect because it wasn’t politically expedient to spend more money on the grid. By helping communities step up and add their own generators, rather than using tax dollars to build new gas or nuclear generators, we reduce the effort that the Province needs to invest in building new generation, and we free up provincial money to invest in repairing and properly maintaining the grid, simultaneously reducing the cost of electricity and improving the system, all while going local and letting communities take charge of their own power supply.
With its across-the-board prices for renewable energy, and additional financial help for community groups, the Green Energy Act lets everyone profit from producing clean power. The point of the act is to level the playing field, and not require a farmer to compete with Bruce Nuclear when he wants to sell his electricity to the grid. The Green Energy Act made it possible for small generators (eg: farmers and home owners) to sell electricity at fair rates, which in turn makes it possible for them to get loans in order to build their projects.
Another way to ask this question would be to ask whether municipalities used to be responsible for providing for their own electricity before the Green Energy Act was passed. The answer is no: the Province was and is responsible to plan and provide electricity to us all.
Municipalities never had the ability to plan and zone their energy supply: the province has held this right and responsibility ever since the grid was first established. Though some have tried to suggest that the Green Energy and Green Economy Act has somehow reduced municipal rights, it has in fact given the new opportunity to municipalities to generate their own electricity, and to own electrical generation assets.
Municipalities can do more about electricity now than they could before, not less.
When responsibilities for the environment and health are downloaded onto municipalities, standards become inconsistent and malpractice may result as it did in the Walkerton drinking water crisis. The energy market is a complicated beast. Although many municipal politicians like the idea of having control over where wind and solar projects should be permitted to be physically located, municipal staff all across Ontario are typically stretched very thin in their work already, are wary of taking on further liabilities, and don’t have the experience or resources to approve or deny wind and solar projects properly: municipal staff tend to welcome central authority, especially for complicated topics like managing the electricity grid. Can you imagine what it would be like if municipal politicians were responsible to plan and negotiate the supply of local electricity for their citizens? With everyone saying they don’t want power plants installed near them, but they still want the power to show up at their house when needed? When topics are broad and generally affect all municipalities of Ontario, they tend to be managed best at the provincial level.
When municipalities had the authority to approve the location of wind turbines, many permitted them closer than the current minimum setback requirement of 550 metres, and some municipalities refused to grant permission regardless of setbacks. There was no consistency, and there was a general lack of expertise in understanding how to manage the additional work of approving local power generation projects (whether gas, wind, nuclear, or other), especially in the smaller municipalities with fewer staff resources.
The Green Energy and Green Economy Act added to the old provincial process for planning our electricity system by adding rules for smaller and more local electricity generation projects (ie: smaller than nuclear plants and Niagara Falls), by standardizing the rules across the province for these types of smaller projects and simplifying the efforts required to get projects built (eg: not requiring a farmer installing a wind turbine to get the same permits as a nuclear plant needs), and by creating a “Renewable Energy Facilitation Office” at the Ministry of Energy to offer technical support to local projects: projects by farmers, school boards, faith groups, First Nations, municipalities, and ordinary homeowners installing wind turbines, solar panels, biomass systems, or restoring old hydro dams (mills).
Municipalities don’t need to plan where to buy electricity from for their citizens, and can now embrace the authority given to them under the Green Energy Act to generate their own clean renewable energy, just as many communities already have. The Green Energy Act empowers those concerned about climate change and the deadly health effects of burning coal to actually do something about it, and to create local jobs and improve the robustness of the local electrical grid while they do.
Municipalities in Ontario used to supply their own power prior to the days of the electrical grid. Now that we have a provincial grid, we all have grown accustomed to getting our power from a few very large generators (eg: Bruce Nuclear, Nanticoke coal), which spread their emissions across the whole province as well. Wind turbines, solar panels, small hydro dams and mills, and other renewable sources of electricity are making it possible for local communities to provide their own power again, or at least a portion of it, and to use technologies that work well in the areas where they live.
Wind turbines do not work well in cities. The buildings break up the wind, which means a turbine will not produce much electricity in this environment. City dwellers and rural landowners can often partner for mutual benefit by locating turbines in rural areas, and selling the electricity (through the grid) to the city. The rural landowners benefit financially, but also benefit from helping reduce the need for large coal and nuclear facilities, replacing emissions and expenses with clean air and rural revenue.
Especially between 2011 and 2018, Ontario’s wind energy industry is offering 80,000+ person years of employment, which will create 38,000 direct jobs and 42,000 indirect jobs. An incredible 5.6GW (nameplate rated capacity) of wind energy will be added to the Ontario grid by 2018 - for a total of 7.1GW in Ontario.
Wind will bring a total market value of $16.4 billion dollars in investment to Ontario, over $8.5 billion of which will remain in the province: $1 billion per year staying in Ontario. $1 million in payments will be made to landowners over that time frame and $245 million will be paid in municipal taxes.
Definitely not. Wind power in Germany grew by 12% in 2006 alone (their fastest recent growth year), has seen steady growth for more than two decades, and currently provides more than 6% of all power needs in Germany. Canada has lagged far behind Europe in the use of wind power with only ~1,500 MW installed, which accounts for approximately 0.5% of our power needs. Germany has nearly achieved grid parity for new solar energy projects, meaning that solar energy is now so cost effective in Germany that it is almost cheaper to install than their normal spot-market grid rates, and will therefore shortly not need a tariff.
Well over 50,000 Ontario residents have applied for contracts under the Green Energy Act to produce clean electricity. Roughly half of these are rural, and half are urban. Ontarians are showing strong support for the Green Energy Act and its programs. More than 2,000 mid-size and large-scale Feed-in Tariff projects have been awarded contracts, representing enough electricity each year to power more than a million homes.
Since 2009, more than 30 businesses have announced they are setting up or expanding plants in Ontario to manufacture parts for the solar and wind industries. Ontario leads Canada in solar capacity and is currently home to the world’s largest operational solar photovoltaic park located in Sarnia. In 2003, Ontario had only 10 wind turbines. Today, the province has more than 1,000 wind turbines and is home to Canada’s four largest wind farms.
In short, Ontario’s media tells a mixed story, but the numbers show that Ontarians believe in green energy, and have been very receptive to the Green Energy and Green Economy Act and its Feed-in Tariff system.
Many! To understand the benefits of wind turbines, you really need to compare them to other sources of power and consider what we’d get if we didn’t use wind turbines. Wind turbines produce electricity using a renewable source (ie: there’s always going to be more wind), and do not produce any greenhouse gases or other emissions from their operation. This results in the following significant benefits:
Public opinion surveys show that 96% of Canadians and 70% of Ontarians support the continued development of wind energy, across all party lines. This is in addition to leading scientists and researchers investigating climate change, leading environmental groups, and national and local governments around the world. With no dangerous waste, no harmful emissions, and relatively simple maintenance requirements, the wind industry is growing at a rate of 30-35% around the world and is one of the fastest growing sources of safe, clean and renewable energy available.
Not just from wind and solar, at least not in the short term, but from a mix of all renewables and with conservation, and with no fossil fuels, absolutely. The Pembina Institute is one of several reputable Canadian agencies that has shown how Ontario can transition back to 100% renewable energy, without needing coal, nuclear, or even natural gas, as soon as 2020. Other reports have shown that a 100% renewably powered world is possible by 2050. These kinds of transitions require a significant commitment to energy conservation, but another study focused on Ontario showed that investing in renewables and energy efficiency will keep costs between 12 and 48% lower than if the same energy was supplied with nuclear power, and that this would also create 27,000 new conservation jobs in the process. Conservation consistently costs 7-10 times less than new generation of any type, and creates many many jobs along the way. The benefits of transitioning to renewable energy would be huge too: among others, projects can be built in smaller increments to match demand whereas nuclear is all or nothing, and the feed-in tariff program for renewables puts the risk of cost overruns on the developer whereas nuclear cost overruns are ultimately born by the taxpayer. 100% renewable energy is feasible, is affordable, and is possible in the short term:
rather than refurbish our current fleet of nuclear reactors, they could be decommissioned on schedule and immediately replaced with renewables, at a much lower cost, while creating more jobs, stimulating the economy, and protecting the environment.
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