To phase out dirty climate-damaging coal power, Ontario has launched a clean energy revolution, using solar energy and windmill turbines. But the solar panels aren’t entirely clean and the windmill turbines have caused serious health concerns for Ontarians.
To read Bob Mok’s early articles on this series please refer to http://096.ca/news/653070
Many people think that the solar panels installed on their roofs will supply electricity directly for their home use. The solar electricity generated is simply too unreliable and cannot be efficiently stored to supply the needs required by a house, with or without an expensive storage system. There are two independent meters instead – one to measure the consumption (as in other houses) and another one to record power being fed into the power grid. A typical family of four people uses, on average, 800 Kwh per month and most residential rooftop units are of under 10Kw capacity.
Ontario’s solar program is made up of two streams: FIT (Feed-in Tariff) for projects between 10 Kw and 500 Kw, and microFIT for projects up to 10 Kw.The residential solar panel installations fall under the microFIT program. For the FIT Program, large rooftops on commercial structures or large open fields are involved. Many of these places cannot afford the capital cost of purchasing and installing a solar panel project simply rent out their rooftops or open areas instead.
It is easy to declare solar energy as a form of completely “clean” energy when the carbon dioxide burden it carries during manufacturing is ignored. Solar panels are manufactured very similar to computer chips which are dirty and energy-intensive processes. These processes produce air pollution and heavy metal emissions, and they consume energy - which brings about more air pollution, heavy metal emissions and also greenhouse gases. While making solar panels generates ten times less greenhouse gases as generated by fossil fuel for the same amount of electricity, solar panels are not totally “clean”!
Another major player in the “Green Energy Act” is the windmill sector. Similar to the solar energy concept, windmills simply take up more spaces but one cannot place these units in residential backyards.
Windmill projects are taken up by Corporations and not by private citizens due to their scope and costs. Most of the commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size and cost roughly $3-$4 million for installation. In Ontario, there are over 2650MW (generating capacity) of windmills working now. To put this into proper perspective, this capacity is the rough equivalent of 3 Darlington Reactors at 878 MW each. The total Nuclear power generation capacity in Ontario is about 13144MW.
Opponents to windmills have presented a number of issues to the expansion of “wind farms” into their communities. Some of these are as follows:
1) Killing of birds and bats – the estimates are varied from one study to the next. It ranges from one bird a day for each turbine to just 30 a year depending on how the statistics and dead birds are collected. Wind turbines can have rotating speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. Some arguments used by wind turbine supporters will be that buildings and communication towers killed a much larger number of birds and bats every year. A counter argument can also be made that these will be avoidable if the windmills are not built in the first place!
2) Constant Background noises - a significant number of those residents who reported perfect contentment with the noise levels of the turbines were also deriving direct economic benefits from the power the windmills were producing such as leasing of their land. At 45 decibels – roughly the volume of a conversation heard from the next room – the constant background noise did not bother these respondents at all, while others reported annoyance at levels of 30 decibels and below – less than the volume of a library whisper.
In Ontario, the Ministry of the Environment has received hundreds of health complaints related to wind turbines. At least one private wind company has been hit by a $1.5 million lawsuit over alleged health impacts. The family who launched the lawsuit have blamed nearby wind turbines for the following : “debilitating vertigo, sleep disturbance, headaches and ringing in the ears, as well as stress, depression and even suicidal thoughts.”
We will continue to look into the Windmill programs in Ontario next time.
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