Turbine might get second chance – kudos to BurlingtonGreen for ensuring environmental sustainablility is kept on the table.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON            May 26, 2012     That decision you made about the turbine on the Pier – said a staff report, we think you should re-consider it – we have more data for you.

That staff report, which we go into further below, is the result of a community group putting their muscle behind their convictions and pressing both staff and now Council to do what they can now do, to have the turbine on the Pier.

It’s an awkward story and as much as people like to blame city hall for as much as they can – it doesn’t look as if the city engineers are to blame for this one.  What is evident is that while Burlington Hydro pays the city a nice dividend each year – they don`t provide much in the way of background and on-going advice with things related to electrical technology.  It is a changing world out there and while BurlingtonGreen is certainly plugged into it – the same can`t be said for Burlington Hydro.  Is there a member of Burlington Green on the Burlington Hydro Board?   There should be.

Let’s go to the beginning.

The city engineers learn that it will not be possible to feed energy into the electrical grid and then use that energy to power the LED lights that will illuminate the Pier once it opens – and the Pier will open – but there are  – ahem, problems with the steel that is needed for the beams.  More on that situation elsewhere.

City engineer Tom Eichenbaum, on the left, has to wonder if his colleagues over at Burlington Hydro are on the same team he is on.

The city engineers are stunned with that news but they don’t run hydro so they put their minds to the problem  and go to council committee with a solution that has a battery pack installed in the utility room underneath the Pier.  The energy from the turbine goes into the battery pack and is then drawn on at night to illuminate the Pier.  It’s a solution with a $70,000 price tag and the council committee says “nope and votes at committee level to not have a turbine on the Pier.

Not so fast say the good people from BurlingtonGreen.  They maintain that the turbine is needed at several levels and they delegate to city council where they lose the argument.  BurlingtonGreen is a well-run community activist group with a focus on the environment and they didn’t think what they were being told was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  They do some digging.   It would appear that they have people within hydro or people in the hydro business feeding them information and advising them.  Good for them.

BurlingtonGreen learns that the city can indeed feed energy into the electricity grid and that Burlington Hydro has the necessary permits in place to accept hydro.  There is some confusion as to just which permits are being talked about – technical stuff which any bureaucrat worth  his title can hide behind.

That information gets teeth grinding at city hall.  Why in hell didn’t we know that? was the most memorable comment.

All this has led to staff suggesting to Council committee that they might want to review the decision they made to not have a turbine on the pier.  Here is a sample of the comments in the report.  The full report is available here.  

The Brant Street Pier construction project had included a wind turbine that would feed energy back into the power grid. In April 2012, city staff reported to the city’s Community Services Committee that the wind turbine could not feed power into the grid but could be a stand-alone power source if a battery pack were added. City Council removed the wind turbine from the pier project. 

 “We recognize that City Council did not have all the facts when staff provided a project update to committee on April 18,” said City Manager Jeff Fielding. “Since then, staff has worked diligently to gather key information.”

In May, city staff met with hydro officials to reconfirm the status of access to the Cumberland Transformer station. They discovered that the city may be able to connect to the grid through the MicroFIT program run by the Ontario Power Authority. 

 “We are asking Council, ‘If you had this information before you made a decision to remove the wind turbine, would you have made a different decision?,

Some shifty language there – “working diligently” is a bit of a stretch.

The provinces Micro Fit program let homeowners put solar on the roof of their houses and sell the power to the Ontario Power Authority. It was a very popular program and the province fell behind processing the application. Someone finally figured out that the turbine planned for the Pier would qualify under this program.

Burlington got caught up in the provincial FIT program that allowed people to install solar panels on their houses or set up a stand-alone structure with an array of solar panels.  Once installed they would be linked so that they could feed directly into the power grid.  Thousands of people saw this as a great investment opportunity.  The province was paying top price for the power they were getting which resulted in more applications than they could handle and things began to back up.

The MicroFit program allowed people to invest in solar arrays and earn an income. It was seen as a very secure investment and is one the city will come under when it's application to have wind turbine energy fed into the power grid. If it takes longer than planned - so what.

This initiative came out of the province’s realization that clean energy is available through the use of solar panels and they put a program in place that would allow individuals to participate.  The province re-developed the application process and called it the MicroFIT program.  The FIT part stands for Feed in Tariff.

It appears that Burlington Hydro or BurlingtonGreen,  figured out a way to have the turbine being built on the Pier qualify under this revised MicroFIT program.  No one particularly cares about which program is used – the city just wanted to generate power with a turbine and feed that power into the grid and be seen as a progressive community using all the advanced technology available.

BurlingtonGreen saw the turbine as both great energy conservation but also as a statement they wanted to see made about being environmentally sensible.  BurlingtonGreen deserves credit for keeping the pressure on.  The city now has to use some forceful language at the next Burlington Hydro Board meeting.

City staff just wants to get beyond the mess.  In their report to Council committee, which will come up at the Community Services Committee at 6:30 pm on the 30th, staff set out the situation as they have come to understand it and set out a number of options.

The background:

At its meeting of April 30, 2012 Council approved the following resolution:  DIRECT the General Manager of Community Services to have the turbine eliminated from the Brant Street Pier project (Councillor Rick Craven) (SD-15-12) Council, April 30, 2012.

The decision to eliminate the wind turbine from the project was largely based on the information provided to the Community Services Committee on April 18, 2012 as part of the Project Update #13.

In part, as a follow-up investigation of the information presented by by Burlington Green (Amy Schnurr) as a delegation to the April 30, 2012 Council meeting, staff now have indications from both Burlington Hydro and the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) that there may, in fact, be capacity at the Cumberland TS to allow for a connection to the grid from a Pier Wind Turbine and other renewable energy sources in the Downtown area.

The two more critical points of contact were:

• February 15, 2012 Burlington Hydro (BHI) confirmed to City staff that (based on a Hydro One ruling) the Transformer Station (TS) servicing the Downtown area could not accept grid connections for renewable power

Burlington Hydro keeps the lights on, runs the system efficiently but does seem to have a problem communicating with their peers at city hall.

• May 15, 2012 BHI staff confirmed to City staff that (based on a Hydro One ruling) the Cumberland TS does have 7 MegW of capacity for renewable energy feed-in connections. However, BHI understands that there are 257 FIT (greater than 10kw) and MicroFIT (less than 10kw) applications in Burlington that have been portal. BHI staff advised City staff to contact the OPA directly as the applications and approvals for MicroFIT renewable projects are administered by the OPA.

May 18, 2012 City staff were able to contact OPA staff for information on the MicroFIT program (The City’s Wind Turbine being rated 10kw would fall into the MicroFIT program).

  If Council decides to reconsider the elimination of the Wind Turbine from the Pier program, the following steps would be required:

• a motion to reconsider the previous Staff Direction SD-15-12 needs to be brought forward by a member of Council. It must receive a 2/3 majority vote.

• If the motion of reconsideration is passed, the Committee can debate the re-introduction of the Wind Turbine or alternatively discuss other options.

• The Committee should then move a recommendation to approve its preferred option and if applicable, formally rescind SD-15-12.

The options:

Not having the turbine available doesn't mean the observation deck and the Tower Beacon won't be built.

Option A  Re-introduce the Wind Turbine as originally specified – 23 foot diameter rotor (11 ½ foot long blades)

To proceed in re-introducing the Wind Turbine into the project, the following points are noteworthy:

1)      A Change Order has already been processed to the Contractor to delete the Wind Turbine from the project. If Council re-introduces the Wind Turbine, a subsequent Change Order will be necessary to re-include for the Wind Turbine.

2)      Staff would request the Project Design Consultant to make submissions to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) MicroFIT program as soon as the new ‘application portal’ is available on-line.

3)      The OPA approval process may be from 3 to 6 months

4)      The City’s application will likely be in a queue of many applications for the Burlington area and application processing and approvals is on a “first come first served” basis.

5)     There is a possibility that even with a successful application to the OPA, other Burlington applications to the OPA may use up the available capacity at the Cumberland TS. Neither BHI nor the OPA are able to assess this eventuality at the present time. The implication of a future approval by the OPA for the Wind Turbine on the overall construction schedule needs to be assessed further by the Project Team. However, the erection of the Turbine is a project task that would have happened later in the overall schedule.

The turbine part is in actuality rotor blades that will be 23 feet in diameter - each blade being 11.5 feet long. The blades will turn a shaft which will in turn generate the power that will be fed into the electricity grid.

6)     Staff understand that MicroFIT wind renewal energy applications are not nearly as popular at the present time, partly because solar feed-in tariff is presently considerably higher than for wind projects.

What does this mean? What will a “change order” cost? How much will it cost to have the design consultants make the application to the OPA for participation in the MicroFIT program?

A wait time of three to six months isn’t an issue – the completion of the Pier isn’t due for another year and if there is not enough capacity for us this time around – we can wait a little longer.  We’ve waited five years longer than we had planned.

Option B   Solar Power Option

Staff and the Design Consultant have assessed whether there may be merit in considering a Solar Power alternative. Solar wouldn’t provide the power needed and visually it wouldn’t work.  Staff doesn’t recommend going solar.

Option C    No Wind Turbine

If Council decides not to reconsider its resolution of April 30, 2012, the Beacon Tower itself will still be part of the Pier project.

Staff recommends  that, if the Wind Turbine is not re-introduced, that the top of the Beacon Tower be extended to give it a more complete appearance.   The cost of this top extension minus the savings or not having the Wind Turbine would be in the order of a net savings of $5,000. The project team recommends that this modification be done if the Wind Turbine is not re-introduced.

Option D    Another Renewable Energy Demonstration Project at Another Location

If Council does not wish to re-introduce the Wind Turbine onto the Pier structure, Council could consider a Staff Direction for the investigation of other opportunities for a demonstration of a renewable energy project at other waterfront or other locations.  The new  8 Fire Station at 1837 Ironstone Drive in Burlington has a 10kw solar installation on its roof.

Those are the choices.  Council can sit on its hands and not vote to open the question.  A Councillor has to move the motion to re-open and then 5 of the 7 have to vote to revisit the issue.   The environmentalists would call this a “no brainer” but the Pier is now a political issue and this council is real skittish about doing anything that will make things worse.  This isn’t an “environmental” council yet – they are into getting people on their bikes for Car Free Sunday’s – are they ready to take a bit of a risk – and it really is a small risk and decide that the new information does change the situation and the turbine should be part of the Pier as long as it isn’t going to cost any more money.

There is some settling up to do with Burlington Hydro -it  is “owned” by the city of Burlington.  The city is the only shareholder and it appoints the Board of Directors.  The Mayor sits on the Board and the city manager sits on at least one of the Board committees.  We were not able to confirm that the city manager sits on the board.

Burlington Hydro Board meetings are for the most private.  They don’t fall under the Municipal Act and the only person they report to is their shareholder which is the city.

In the old days when we had Utility Commissions, the commissioners were elected and that made the meetings open to the public.  Perhaps some changes can be made at that level?

City manager Jeff Fielding might bring his "do your job" line to the next Burlington Hydro meeting he attends. The evidence suggests they could benefit from his very direct approach to problems.

Our city manager raised a lot of eyebrows when a while ago he said to the council members “do your jobs”.  There were a lot of people who watched the on-line broadcast of that meeting and told there friends which minute of the broadcast they could fast forward to and catch the comment.   So, many said to themselves, we do have someone who is going to deliver value for money to the taxpayers – which the city manager has told everyone at city hall to begin calling customers.

It is time for the city manager and the mayor to begin bringing some discipline to the way Burlington Hydro works – these are the guys that keep the lights on for us.


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1 comment to Turbine might get second chance – kudos to BurlingtonGreen for ensuring environmental sustainablility is kept on the table.

  • Kurt Koster

    Well done Pepper!!
    Unlikely that the 5 votes to reconsider can be garnered. We have a few Councillors that evaluate everything on the basis of economics without considering other factors such as environmental and educational benefits.
    I agree that BH needs to become more democratic with meetings open to the public. I also have a problem of them making a profit off us their customers, which then goes back to the City of which we are all owners. A hidden tax??