The city announced a couple of years ago that it was exploring the idea of a tall wind turbine in Saskatoon. I loved the idea when it came out and have followed its progress off and on.
The city evaluated sites near the university, Diefenbaker Park and the landfill. Eventually the choice was narrowed down to the landfill site, where a variety of green energy options will be located.
The tall wind turbine that Saskatoon is proposing is one of the largest to be built in an urban centre. It is being partially funded by the Canada-Saskatchewan Provincial-Territorial Base Fund, which will cover slightly more than half of the $5-million capital cost.
The turbine is projected to start generating revenue of $410,000 beginning in 2013 and turn a profit nine years down the line. To qualify for the funding, the project needs to be completed by March 2013, which is why we have seen a flurry of activity as time is running short.
While city hall seems to love the project, residents of Montgomery are strongly against it – something I saw first-hand at the Ward 2 town hall meeting.
While the city has held some open houses, its communication with residents about the project has been lacking or simply ineffective. Civic officials at the meeting pointed out the city had released a variety of environmental impact reports, but had only posted them on the city’s website earlier that day.
I didn’t see any hard copies of the report, presentation on the wind turbine or any other tools that would have been useful in engaging the neighbourhood in a dialogue. As expected, people brought up a variety of concerns, most having to do with how close it would be to Montgomery, and how much noise would be generated.
Turbine locations are controversial everywhere. There are as many regional and national standards as there are reasons for why the Leafs keep missing the playoffs. The setbacks required range from 400 metres to more than two kilometres. There are court challenges and issues over property values in many jurisdictions.
It comes down to this: The farther away a turbine is, the less noise is heard.
While it would make sense to locate the turbine outside Saskatoon in the middle of nowhere, the city needs to keep it within its 1956 city limits so it can be operated under Saskatoon Light and Power.
The city also looked at locating the turbine in Diefenbaker Park, but rejected that idea because of the potential of future commercial and residential development going there.
It decided instead to put it right beside an existing residential neighbourhood. You can understand why the Montgomery residents are upset.
The turbine at the landfill would be more than 500 metres away from homes in Montgomery. At that range, says a report, the noise generated by the turbine in a light breeze will be approximately 40 decibels, which is only slightly more than a quiet whisper. This noise is on top of the noise that Montgomery has to put up with from trains rolling by and the shunting of railcars all day and night.
While the turbine wouldn’t add to the level of noise (the louder noise is the one heard), it adds a constant noise to the equation.
When I looked at the engineering report for how much sound would be created, it was based on the assumption of a light breeze. Not knowing how windy it gets out there, I checked out the Wind Assessment Final Report prepared by the Saskatchewan Research Council, which says: "The site, therefore, would be considered marginal for supporting wind power generation."
It’s not the worst classification, but it’s second worst. The good news is that it may be even quieter than what the noise report suggests, but the bad news is there’s an awful lot of angry people over what is being called a marginal project.
The global energy problem won’t be solved by a few more of us driving hybrid vehicles. It will take a commitment and investment in alternative energy generation, such as wind turbines.
I know the federal money is there, and $2.35 million is hard to walk way from, especially when the city already has spent $530,000 on the project. However, if we are going to spend the money, let’s spend it on something that makes the most impact, not just because we can get some federal dollars.
If we are going to ask a neighbourhood to make a sacrifice and support something, we should ensure that it’s more than a marginal project, even if it is green.