Men’s Breakfast

I gave a talk at the Men’s Breakfast in Tobermory last week. This is a group of about 125 that gets together once a month, and invites various interesting speakers to talk. I guess they think I qualify. This is what I talked about.

Thank you for inviting me back to speak to you this morning. I am going to assume that you are a supporter of the wind farm that my firm installed near Ferndale. If your not, too bad. I’m the speaker and you have to listen anyways.

You are probably as confused as I am by some of the coverage in the local media about opposition to wind energy, especially in the south part of County. Today I am going to talk about some of the myths that those who oppose wind, for whatever reason, use, to spread uncertainty and doubt.

Before I do that, I think it is important to put things in an overall context. You know, in Canada we always talk about hydro. We get our hydro connected. We complain about our hydro bill. The hydro went out last night. Everywhere else on earth its called electricity. Hydro comes from water. And in the early days of electricity, right up into the 1950’s, Ontario obtained almost all of its power from water.

But since the fifties, the Ontario the share of electricity generated by water has fallen. Today, we get about 25% of our power from water, about 20% from coal, and about 50% from nuclear. We should talk about our nuke bill, not our hydro bill.

And of course, generating power from nuclear or coal has some rather nasty effects. We know about the damage done from burning coal – the health impacts, smog, acid rain, and the contribution to climate change. Its nasty. But the nuclear industry has spent millions trying to convince us that nuclear is clean, and safe. I am unconvinced.

There is a mountain outside of Las Vegas, called Yucca Mountain, that the US is talking about using as a waste storage site. I used to be in the computer business, and every year we had to make the trek to Las Vegas for the big computer show. Computer technology changes a lot, and those in the industry have to keep up, so I would be working very hard at that show. 150,000 computer geeks would descend on Vegas. The restaurants, hotels, and taxis were all over booked, and too busy. And worse, the tables were empty, because the computer crowd was working too hard to spend much time at the tables. The town was surly and rude. So I always hated Las Vegas. I can’t think of a better place for a nuclear waste dump. But that’s just me.

One of the team member that is assessing the site is an anthropologist. That is someone who studies cultures and languages of the past. You would expect a seismologist, who studies earthquakes, and a hydrologist who studies water, perhaps a climatologist who studies climate and weather, and a geologist who studies rock. But what is an anthropologist doing on staff?

Well, we have to figure out to communicate with people 100,000 years from now to keep out. One thing is for certain – the people of that time won’t be speaking English. I have trouble with some of the words and grammer used in the King James Bible, or in Shakespeare, and these were written mere hundreds of years ago. We would have great difficulty speaking to anyone who lived 1000 years ago. 30000 years about we shared the planet with neanderthals.

The concept of storing something safely for 100,000 years is simply beyond human comprehension. It is not a technical problem. It is a cultural problem. And it is not solvable.

So I believe that if we can get our energy from something other than coal, or nuclear, we should. That’s the overall context.

What happens with opponents of wind is that once they have decided they don’t want it, then they throw everything at it. They go out on the internet, and dig up everything. You can prove just about anything on the internet. You can prove that the Leafs will win the Cup. But that doesn’t make it true.

Birds are one of the first myths. I held a public meeting about my project that was attended by about 25 people. And one of the people in the audience asked, “There is a flock of geese that lives in Georgian Bay, and every morning they fly across the Peninsula to Lake Huron to feed, and every night they fly back. What would happen if one of the geese hit the turbine?”.

I am in the wind business, and this question comes up all the time. I call it tape 1. “The average wind turbine kills 2 birds per year. That’s less than the average car. It’s less than the average house cat. And scientists say the 1/4 of the world species will be made extinct from the effects of climate change…” The listener stopped me. “I wasn’t worried about the goose. I was wondering if it would do anything to the turbine”. I think I said something about a 6 tonne blade that would not be badly affected. The bottom line is that birds see wind turbines, and they hear them, and they fly around them.

Some claim that wind turbines cause stillborn cattle. Of course, cattle are stillborn all the time. Such a birth is nature’s way of dealing with defective genes. So it is virtually impossible to disprove, or prove this allegation.

At the Ferndale turbine, the cattle seemed to congregate near the turbine. And cattle of course poop a lot, and so they would make a bit of a mess. The farmer even installed an electric fence to keep the site looking better when I gave tours.

I said to him one time, “I think your cattle really seem to like the turbine.”

“Yes, I think that’s seems to be true.”

So I took it a step further. “You know, I bet your cattle are happier than your neigbour’s cattle.

“That could be,” he said.

“I bet your cattle are gaining weight faster than your neighbour’s.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.”

“Maybe you should be paying me for having the turbine here instead of the other way around,” I said.

The conversation went downhill from there.

But the idea that wind turbines affect cattle in a negative way seems a bit far fetched.

Wind turbines cause epilepsy in cattle. This is because of the strobe affect of the moving blades.

At the public meeting, I said that the turbine I planned to put up turned at a “leisurely 16 revolution per minute. I sort of matches the pace of life up here on the Peninsula”. One of the people in the crowd said, “No, the only way to match the pace of life here is if it is stopped.”

But 16 RPM. You can’t even call that a strobe.

The vibrations in wind turbine foundations apparently affect earthworm populations. Who knew there was a Society for the Protection of Earth Worms (SPEW)? I had a couple of people from Canadian Wildlife Service tour the site, and their reponse to this was interesting. Apparently many of the species of earthworms present today are not native. They are introduced species. And there is some concern that they are changing soil biology, as North American soils have traditionally been more dependant on fungi to break down plant matter. So earthworms are crowding out the native species that have built the soils for millenia, and that all our local plants depend on. Maybe we need more wind turbines to help out.

Sound is an issue that always comes up. But in Ontario we have pretty tight sound guidelines that we must meet. You must do computer modelling of sound, and include any neighbouring homes as point receptors. This is submitted to the Ministry of the Environment for a certificate of approval. The sound from wind turbines is not mechanical – it is the swoosh of the blade as it passes by the bottom. It is like waves on a beach, only more regular. And people pay extra for a place near the beach. Come to one of my summer tours sometime, and you will get up close. I think you will conclude that sound is not a big issue, especially if you locate far enough away from houses.
Wind turbines cause drought. This one came up during a State election in India. The governing party had policies that supported the development of wind energy. There was a drought on at the time, so the opposition blamed the drought on the wind turbines, and by implication, on their opponents. The government was re-elected. Evidently the people of India also don’t always believe their politicians. And of course the notion is daft. Wind turbines act to slow down the wind in a local area, by stealing the energy to make electicity. If anything, this may cause a slight increase in rainfall around a turbine. But of course the amount of energy taken by the wind turbine is negligible compared to the vast amount of air and rain going over a farm.
Infrasound is a good one. Do you know what infra sound is? It is sound you can’t hear. But I guess its a problem. It says so on the internet. Supposedly wind turbines cause infrasound. But this goes back to some two blade downwind turbines designed in the early eighties. When the blade passed behind the tower, the air was turbulent, and so it caused some low frequency vibrations in the air. The Ferndale turbines are three blade upwind designs. Infrasound is not a problem.

Safety. Apparently wind turbines fall over all the time. And so you need to make sure they are 250 m from lot lines. This one become a big issue in Saugeen Shores. Some retired plant workers found this on the internet. Of course wind turbines are built to withstand very big winds. And their structures are designed by engineers, and the designs are signed by them. Since I have been in the business, I have heard of this happening about 4 times. It is of course real big news in the industry. Each time, there was a flaw that was detected, such as a faulty weld. And that is 4 out of 60,000 wind turbines installed worldwide. Lets compare that the nukes. 1 in 400 – Chernobyl – has had a meltdown, caused sterilization of a large region, and killed hundreds if not thousands. One had a near miss – 3 mile Island. So that’s 2 in 400. I’ll take my chances with the wind turbines.

If we are so concerned about things falling on lot lines we better put a big setback in for barns. Two barn roofs were blown off this summer in our municipality. How many trees have fallen over? Maybe we should make a 100 foot setback for trees. And who signed the drawings for the tree roots anyways?

The power produced by wind turbines is intermittent. They don’t produce reliable power, since the wind doesn’t blow all the time. This is true. But if the turbines are geographically disperse, this impact is diminished, as the wind doesn’t stop everywhere all at the same time. And wind works very well with waterpower. When the wind is blowing, you can let water accumulate behind the dam. And when it is calm, you use the water you have stored. Ontario is located next to two provinces with substantial water storage. Both Quebec and Manitoba are 95% water power. Re-inforcing the lines to Quebec and Manitoba is an option. Besides, all sources of generation are intermittent, as they all need maintenance. We accomodate this today by building extra capacity. That same capacity can be used to firm up wind.

At the end of the day, there is basically just one issue with wind turbines. You can see them. And if you don’t like the look of them, then that can be discussed. On the Peninsula, the number of people who believe that the Ferndale wind turbines are ugly can probably be counted on one hand. It is for a community to decide. But don’t buy into the myths that those who are opposed may spread.

I’ve got news for you. The Leafs won’t win the Cup.

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