“Get the politics out of it – and put the turbine on the Pier” advises BurlingtonGreen.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  May 23, 2012

Something’s just get completely bedeviled and no matter what you do – things still go wrong.  Is Burlington going to be defined by a Pier that just seems to be plagued with problem after problem?  Have you noticed that the construction site isn’t exactly a beehive of activity?

Stripped to the bare essentials with not much more than the caissons and the apron in place - the Pier awaits new beams. It was expecting to see a neat turbine mounted on the east side that would power the lights at night but that is in a solid state of confusion right now.

Let’s take the most recent developments one at a time.  The turbine – it was a device that was going to make the Pier different and it would provide the energy to light up the lights that would illuminate the Pier at night.  City Director of Engineering Tom Eichenbaum said “once the lights are on at night they would forever shape the view people had of Burlington”.  Eichenbaum is a decent man who does his job with efficiency and dispatch; the kind of person you want in the job he has.  When there are problems, and there are always problems in construction, Eichenbaum usually comes up with an innovate solution.  The one observation is that the solutions are sometimes a little on the expensive side.

What the city calls Phase Two of the Pier construction,  is tooling along; the steel beams that were not up to specifications were taken out and are in storage.  Highly qualified and expensive consultants are in place and we have a construction company that has a good reputation under contract.  What could go wrong?  Guess what – things went wrong – just a bit.

The city has project management software telling them what has to be done when and they were approaching the point where some attention should be paid to the construction, installation and all that kind of stuff, related to the turbine.  Then, right out of the blue, Burlington Hydro advises the city that they cannot take an energy feed from the turbine into the Cumberland Street transformer station.   What!

This project has been on the table for more than six years.  Hydro, which is owned by the city, put up $100,000 to pay for the turbine.  And now they tell us that the energy created by the turbine cannot be fed into the electricity grid.  There are people at city hall spitting teeth on this one.  Unbelievable.   Eichenbaum does what he does – and comes up with a solution – for just $70,000,  the city will install a battery pack in the electrical utility room which is almost directly under where the turbine will sit.  The energy created by the turbine will be fed into the battery pack and be used to keep the Pier lights on at night.

It is not a solution city council wants to go anywhere near and they nix the idea in a unanimous vote at committee level.  We report that development.

Everything that happens at committee goes to Council for a final vote.  Not so fast say the good folks over at BurlingtonGreen – and they delegate at city council.  While Amy Schnurr does an admirable job of stating the BurlingtonGreen case she does not  change any minds.  Schnurr is not happy – she does not like situations where common sense and a strong  belief in the need to pay much more attention to the environment are not given their due.

This council doesn’t want to approve any more spending on the Pier.  While it is regrettable they say – that Hydro cannot take an energy feed – that’s the way it is and they are prepared to live with that for today and perhaps at some point in the future they city will revisit the idea.

BurlingtonGreen isn’t easily dissuaded.  They dig in and do some homework.  And they learn that an energy feed can be handled by the Cumberland transformer station and that apparently the permits to do that are all in place.

More teeth are spit out at city hall.  Telephone calls are made, one can hear the sound of teeth grinding.

Understanding how this confusion came about is a little complex – the transformers are part of the Hydro One operation.  They manage the grid and they determine what can be fed into the grid and what cannot be fed into the grid.  Capturing energy and feeding it into the grid is something everyone wants to do these days and Hydro One can only handle so many situations at any one time.   To manage the many requests Hydro One set up a systems where applications are invited for a specific time frame – perhaps three months.  Hydro One chooses the ones they can handle and approve and they advise those chosen and issue the permit.  The is relatively complex – the one thing the OPA will not let happen is have someone suddenly begin feeding energy into a transformer that is not set up to handle it.  It’s a process and it takes time.

Organizations make their applications and if they are accepted they are advised.  All those not accepted get thrown out and when the new window opens new applications have to be submitted – sounds kind of dumb but that’s the way it apparently works and Burlington is not going to get that changed.

The Burlington Hydro people had been making applications – not making the cut and re-applying, apparently for some time.  Suddenly they are accepted but someone at Hydro fails to tell the city but BurlingtonGreen manages to find out

So – BurlingtonGreen is right – and Burlington Hydro is lousy at communicating.

The communication between BurlingtonGreen, the Mayor, who for some reason inserted himself into this when he should have delegated it to his staff and stayed above the fray, was interesting and confusing.

This all started with a Staff report on the power feed problem.  Engineering said the city council committee”

“In January 2012, the Project Management Team met with Burlington Hydro staff for an update on the wind turbine installation. Hydro staff advised that the transformer station serving the downtown area is not adequately configured to accept feed-in (surplus power) from the pier wind turbine.

“An upgrade of the transformer station to accept renewable energy from the pier and other sources is fairly expensive and not currently planned for the immediate future.

“In order to maximize the usage of the pier wind turbine power, staff have authorized the pier design consultant and contractor to revise the wind turbine configuration to have on-site excess power captured using battery packs. The cost of this reconfiguration, including the batteries, is about $70,000 and will be funded from the overall project contingency (approximate total project contingency allowance of $890,000). The overall appearance of the wind turbine will be the same and the battery packs will be housed in the existing pier electrical room. *NOTE: Having discussed the extra costs of the battery pack option and the overall merit of the wind turbine, Community Services Committee approved the following recommendation for consideration by City Council on April 30, 2012: “”Direct the General Manager of Community Services to have the turbine eliminated from the Brant Street Pier project.” Should council approve this option, the wind turbine will deleted from the project.”

Tom Eichenbaum, P. Eng. Director of Engineering Community Services Division

As you would expect, BurlingtonGreen is very disappointed with the unanimous decision of Council to cancel the pier wind turbine.

In a delegation to city council BurlingtonGreen says:

“It would have served as an important symbol of Burlington’s commitment to innovation and economic growth as well as providing environmental benefits. We believe the decision to cancel it will send a strong signal counter to our collective goals.

“Of additional concern is Council’s unwillingness to explore creative (i.e. privately funded) solutions to support the added costs for the project and unwillingness to defer the item to allow for public awareness and an invitation for meaningful engagement. This appears to be very much at odds with this Council’s expressed commitment to do a better job at this.

“ Moving forward, without the benefit of a staff report our team has some questions I am hoping you can answer or direct to the appropriate staff member.

1. What are the next steps with the wind turbine unit? Who owns it? Is it available for use elsewhere in the City? Will there be any costs as a result of cancelling the turbine order and if so , what is the amount?

2. There were Council comments about a preference to redirect the 100k from Hydro (earmarked for the turbine) to support another, more effective renewable energy project in the City. We would like to learn more about this opportunity and what the process will include as far as specific project opportunities, the 100K funding redirection and the projected timing of this.

3. We would like to know how and when the cancellation of the wind turbine will be communicated to the citizens of Burlington. Thank you in advance for your attention to these inquiries and we look forward to a response.

Amy Schnurr, Executive Director, BurlingtonGreen 

They don’t manage to win the debate at city council but they do dig down and learn that the city can in fact feed energy into the grid.  They write the Mayor:

“We believe the inaccurate information shared at Committee and Council meetings and followed up in the media regarding the pier wind turbine was misleading to the public and harmful to the renewable energy industry. We trust the following information will be considered helpful in getting the turbine installation back on track as planned.

“Below is our understanding of the turbine and its installation based on information from Hydro One, the wind turbine manufacturer and the wind turbine installation company (We have not received a reply to our request for confirmation from Burlington Hydro at this time).

1. The wind turbine energy can feed into the transformer and the permits are in place. Counter to what has recently been reported, no added battery packs are required. If you did want to add a battery pack (although not necessary), the cost would be $11,800 not the reported $50,000.

2. The “$200,000 plus” figure quoted by Councillor Dennison is not accurate. The wind turbine feature has already been paid for by Burlington Hydro via a $100,000 contribution. The invoice we have reviewed states a total cost for the turbine including installation to be $89,819 leaving a project surplus of $10,181 available to support any hydro connection costs that may be required.

3. We understand the city already has in its possession some of the components of the turbine at a cost of $52,000 and that there could be an additional cancel order fee if the project was not to proceed.

4) The wind turbine is a small 10 kW unit and yet it is a good investment, both financially and environmentally. Unlike other infrastructure expenditures in the City, renewable energy projects produce a financial return. Projected energy revenue for the wind turbine is estimated to be $3000 per year and instead of lighting the pier lights with conventional energy supply and paying for it, you will be using “free” wind power and setting a clear example of Burlington’s innovation and environmental leadership.

Considering these facts and continuing to recognize the benefits to the City of Burlington, we look forward to seeing the City proceed with the pier wind turbine project.

Amy Schnurr, Executive Director, BurlingtonGreen

BurlingtonGreen issues a statement saying it is very disappointed with the unanimous decision of Council to cancel the pier wind turbine.

The Mayor then makes a tactical mistake and responds to the Burlington Green people directly saying:

1. No wind turbine has been purchased. There could be a change order fee for cancelling the turbine component due to time spent on this by the contractor. Staff does not believe that fee will be greater than $10,000.

2. The potential for a meaningful renewable energy project is up for discussion during the Community Energy Plan process. There is nothing specific in mind at present. ( I am sure you are aware of the solar panel installation that is on the roof of the new Fire Station number 8.)

3. The cancellation of the turbine has been communicated in both The Spec and The Post. All pier updates are added to the city website.

I have had several positive comments about council’s decision and I know Councillor Meed Ward has heard from several residents by email that support removal of the turbine from pier as well.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

That’s a brush off if I ever saw one – and BurlingtonGreen is not a crowd that is easily brushed off.  If it comes to going toe to toe – Amy Schnurr is going to best the Mayor every time.

It is now possible to feed energy from the turbine into the grid and BurlingtonGreen wants the city to get on with it.

There was a turbine at least partially built by the original contractor  Henry Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. but they apparently want more for it than the city is prepared to pay.  BurlingtonGreen makes mention of “parts” of a turbine that are “somewhere” and city hall isn’t being as transparent as it perhaps could be, should be on this whole file.

There’s more – there is a reason why there is no construction activity down on the Pier.  That one is being worked at.  Stay tuned.

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