Wind Turbine Syndrome

This is a special guest entry by my brother Lyle.

I visit my brother Glen in Lion’s Head a few times a year.  Which means I feel like I know the place.  Sort of.  I’ve watched the rise of the Farmer’s Market that Megan started, and I love to see the growth over at the Harvest Moon organic bakery.  I have been sailing a few times, I’ve done some hiking, some bird watching.  A little bit of swimming when we can screw up the courage.

bay.jpgIn some ways I am the stereotypical tourist.  When I come to town with my tribe we basically see the sights, consume little in the way of government services—and basically just leave dollars behind.  This year we deposited a couple of our boys at Celtic Sports and Arts Camp and passed the time reading, and eating, and enjoying a basic summer vacation.

Over the years I have watched the growth of Glen’s wind business, in which I am a proud investor.  Glen passed the hat amongst family and friends and raised enough money to install a lone wind turbine on the Ferndale Flats.  In doing so he demonstrated that there was a commercially viable wind resource here, and that it was possible to make a whole bunch of electricity from wind.

His project was marginal from an investment perspective.  In the early days it was hard to find consumers who valued “green” electrons, and hard to get the power authorities to understand what he was doing.  I was inspired by his project, and by renewable energy in general, and found myself charging into the biodiesel business where I live, in North Carolina.  We don’t have a lot of wind in my neck of the woods, but we have plenty of used cooking oil.

Glen’s project turned the financial corner when Canada signed onto the Kyoto Accord and when Ontario began to properly value energy from renewable sources.  By selling off renewable energy credits he had accumulated from his lone turbine, Glen’s project shifted from marginal to profitable and he was able to convince the bank to lend him money to build two more.

I have been on the sidelines of all of this.  I remember when he found a farmer who was interested in leasing his land so that he could generate income from something other than just cows and hay.  I remember thinking Glen was a genius when it became clear he had built a substation capable of handling three turbines—dramatically reducing the installation cost of the second two.

Both of us have ended up squarely in the renewable energy business.  And as a result both of us have slammed up hard against entrenched interests, public policy that favors large scale, and an intractable status quo.  It’s maddening.  And challenging.  And at times it is invigorating.  Both of us have become accidental activists who are escorting our respective communities into a low carbon future.

We share gripes.  And concerns.  And strategies.  At Piedmont Biofuels, where I work, we set out to change the hearts and minds of North Carolinians by offering free tours of our biodiesel facilities.  Glen took a page out of our hymn book and started offering free summer tours of his first turbine every Saturday at 2:00.  When he is out of town, he brings in substitutes.  I will be leading the tour this week.  It will be my second time.

I do a lot of writing, and blogging, and Glen has taken our lead in that as well.  Glen doesn’t shoot his mouth off like I do, but his Wind Blog has seen considerable web traffic over the years, is cited far and wide, and has become a highly credible source of information on Ontario’s nascent wind industry.  I should know—I host it for him on our domain—

Glen and I cross pollinate.  I have done presentations on my past two books at the Bruce Peninsula Environmental Group, which Glen is active in.  BPEG starts a lending library of books on climate change, energy and society in Lion’s Head, and shortly thereafter Piedmont starts the exact same thing in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

We both do education, and outreach, and we both see an urgent need for both increased sources of renewable energy, and an increase in energy literacy in general.

On this trip to Lion’s Head I’ve noticed something different around Glen’s place.  He always has piles of reading materials everywhere—I typically ferry some of those home as part of my summer reading—but this year there are piles of The Bruce Peninsula Press.  Prior to this visit I was unfamiliar with it.  It appears to be more than an “advertiser,” since it is full of news and community announcements.  In many ways it is a typical small town newspaper.  What makes it interesting to me is that the back page is routinely a display advertisement bashing wind energy.

Some guy named Slavko Grguric from Miller Lake has been buying giant advertisements that spout gibberish about wind energy.  In one he claims that “wind turbines generate nothing and yet draw power from the grid the rest of the time.”  Bizarre.  Each one of Glen’s turbines creates enough electricity to power 500 average Canadian homes.  And each one does consume power—the equivalent of one big Canadian home.

Slavko’s tagline is “What they (Wind Turbine Tycoons) don’t tell us about wind turbines,”  and then goes on to quote “known facts” about how wind turbines are a health hazard.  No studies.  No science.  Just bald claims that he can afford to pay to print.

I find it interesting that he cites noise as a big issue.  I wonder if he has ever been for a turbine tour?  You can stand below it, at its loudest possible speed, and conduct a conversation in a normal voice.

I personally find the term “tycoon” a hoot, and have been teasing Glen relentlessly about it.  Surely tycoons don’t drink beer.  We need to move Glen to triple malted scotch.  Do tycoons hang their laundry out to dry in the sun?  Surely not.  We need to get him some silk pajamas and upgrade the stain job on his porch.

I don’t know who Slavko is.  A cursory Google search leads me to believe he is a machine shop guy who makes parts for nuclear plants.  Since I know nothing more about the man, I will refrain from dubbing him a “fat cat machine shop operator.”  I’m guessing there is a chance he likes to sit on his deck over in Miller Lake and watch the sun set over the water.  Just like Glen likes to do in Lion’s Head.

Glen’s wind company, Sky Generation, has gone on to develop six new turbines in Ravenswood, and he is in the process of building 4 more.  That will put him at 13 turbines spinning.  Out of 600 in Ontario.  Compared to tens of thousands in Germany.

The ads have inspired letters to the editor, and to an article by John Francis, who appears to be the publisher of the Peninsula Press.  His was a well written piece, and I am guessing the wind controversy is great for his business.  Who wouldn’t welcome a new full page advertiser—even if the content of the ads is ludicrous?

I’m coming to the end of a quiet afternoon at Glen’s place.  He’s been out all day.  My entourage is off buying whitefish in Tobermory, and making the annual run to the Sweet Shop.  I spent part of the afternoon repairing Wind Blog—with help from Scott who did the database cleanup.  And part of the day reading through the pile of Bruce Peninsula Press.

It’s funny.  You kill yourself doing the right thing, you take a risk, you pour your heart into it, only to be greeted by the energy illiteracy and profound ignorance of supporters of the status quo.

As the sun begins to light up the bluff it strikes me that the whole wind/anti wind energy debate goes way beyond Sky Generation, and is really targeted at derailing the possible installation of 100 turbines on the peninsula.  A company called PRENEAL has eyed the Bruce for a potentially large wind project.

As a guy who knows something about the wind business, Glen has voluntarily worked with farmers and interested citizens on framing what a project of that magnitude might look like to the community.  Since there is nothing in it for him, he has had an eye on big public benefits, and a fair distribution of the wealth it might bring.  For that he finds himself bludgeoned in the hometown paper.

Oh well.  At least Wind Blog is fixed.  Maybe he will read this, and take it back out for a spin…

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