Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Exhibition Turbine: An Icon for Ontario's Mazza Race

The Toronto Exhibition grounds are the appropriate site of a wind turbine that is frequently described as iconic.

What does this icon represent?

A review of the performance of Toronto's wind turbine indicates the financial numbers don't justify any respect being paid to the project. The turbine has a 600kW capacity - often reported as 750kW because of the capacity of parts of the turbine, but it seems it's actually 600kW due to the capacity of other parts of the turbine.  The initial costs were $1.8 million, the turbine became operational in January 2004, and the co-op owners reportedly received a dividend payment in January 2005 (4% of share value).

The only one they have ever received, and recent press reports indicate even it is forgotten.

The Globe and Mail reported that the turbine performed poorly in 2006, 2007 and 2008; The Toronto Star reported production of 780MWh in 2008, 1064MWh in 2009 and 927MWh in 2010.

In March 2011 the turbine broke down, and it would not come back until parts costing $200,000 were found and installed at the start of May. The output in 2011 probably dropped below the 1000MWh estimate, which makes it likely that since 2005 the 1000MWh level was achieved only in 2009.

It's notable that during the period in 2011 when the turbine was awaiting it's bearings, a video was released where the maintenance is heralded and the performance is sited as being excellent for the past 4 or 5 years.

The turbine broke down again in August 2012 and continues to be inoperable.  Not surprisingly, a glowing article appeared in the absence of a functioning turbine - financed by TD Bank and Suncor and posted on the Huffington Post: The Butterfly Effect: How A Single Wind Turbine Led To A Renewable Energy Revolution In Ontario:
"The folks that formed TREC [Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative] really wanted a site that would act as a demonstration, an icon if you will, for the green energy movement." 

  • TREC and Windshare were also the starting point for an emerging renewable energy movement. People who were involved moved on and created many more community-minded renewable energy initiatives.
  • The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, an organization formed to implement community sustainable energy projects across Ontario;
  • The Community Power Fund ...
  • SolarShare...
  • And ultimately the Green Energy Act, Ontario's German-inspired feed-in tariff was passed leading to thousands of wind, solar, hydro and biofuels projects being developed in Ontario.
So the project is a total dud financially, but the participants in the project are now highly influential due to their involvement.  Success is in the influencing of political policy.  TREC's Executive Director, Judith Lipp, has emphasized the involvement of TREC leading to Ontario's Feed-In Tariff Program (FIT) and Green Energy Act (GEA).  More recently, she has noted a broader purpose to TREC's activities:
...what we’re transitioning to is a decentralized electricity system, but there’s lots of people who don’t understand what we’re doing; they turn the lights on but they don’t really want to engage with how it is that we keep those lights on and the impact that keeping those lights on has on the environment as well as the other social aspects of the matter. So the challenge is navigating the system that is geared towards large players...
It's notable that the measurement of success seems to be in moving away from some incumbent system - in Ontario's case presumably public power, and up until Bob Rae's government, public power at cost.

While the failure of the Exhibition wind turbine as an electricity generating device is seldom mentioned, the feed-in tariffs, and the Green Energy Act the iconic project is credited with developing did catch the attention of Ontario's Auditor-General.  One aspect of the 2011 Annual Report is summarized:
(TORONTO) Billions of dollars of new wind and solar power projects were approved without many of the usual planning, regulatory, and oversight processes, Auditor General Jim McCarter says in his 2011 Annual Report.
“While this helped these projects get off the ground quickly, their high cost will add significantly to ratepayers’ electricity bills in the future,” McCarter said today on release of the Report.
“Going forward, it will be critical for the Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to conduct an objective cost-benefit assessment of the progress made to date to provide government decision-makers with the information they need to strike an appropriate balance between the promotion of green energy and the price of electricity in Ontario,” McCarter added.
The exhibition turbine has been iconic - of the lack of interest in the financial analysis on the electricity sector - but also iconic in demonstrating there are not measurements that could determine what is a failure in transitioning from an unacceptable past to a glorious future.

The lack of interest in financial analysis also figured prominently in another report by Ontario's Auditor General, delivered in March:
(TORONTO) The Ontario government has given Ornge more than $700 million since 2006 to provide ambulance service in the province without sufficiently monitoring how well Ornge was doing its job or whether it was following appropriate public-sector business practices, Auditor General Jim McCarter said today on the release of a special report entitled Ornge Air Ambulance and Related Services
When the disgraced head of Ornge finally appeared before a legislative committee in July, his opening statement also noted a greater purpose of displacing an incumbent system:
I believed and I still believe deeply in what we were doing. For me, Ornge was never about personal enrichment or personal gain. It was about the vital and urgent necessity to transform an antiquated and dysfunctional air ambulance system that everyone knew did not serve the interests of Ontario residents......not everyone agreed with these changes, and you have heard from some of these people. But the changes that were implemented and continue today are paying dividends.
The transcript indicates Mr. Mazza used some form of the term "sustainability" 7 times during his testimony that day.  Disregarding the overwhelming evidence of waste, and fiscal irresponsibility, MR. Mazza maintained the bedrock faith that an unsustainable past justified his actions towards a better future; actions that are immune from being judged.

People that tend to think tactically, like auditors, would find that troubling.

I find it troubling for reasons well beyond the financial.
  • People do not know the future - hopefully they make their future;
  • Privatizing services does not remove the need to manage the operations: a push to privatization based on creating a market is defensible, but a push to privatization based on the government's inability to manage the delivery of a service simply leads to a government incapable of managing the privatization;
  • When there are no measurements of success, success is not based on competence;
  • When success is not based on competence, it is based on personality and preference...

In April the government established Ontario’s Clean Energy Task Force, "to help broaden the Province’s energy focus."  Predictably, the 14 greenest energy folks found to populate that 'clean' body are similar in colour.  With competence in the generation and delivery of electricity unimportant, the selection criteria is contempt of the past, feigned knowledge of the future, and overall display of the characteristics of the Mazza race.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! This blog post couldn't be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this article to him. Fairly certain he's going to have a very good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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