She won the debate; she had the better arguments but in local politics that gets you squat.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, on  May 1, 2012  She certainly gave them a run for their money and she scored points Council members didn’t expect her to make and if this had been an academic debate she would have won hands down – but it was just a Burlington city council meeting and Amy Schnurr  left the podium with a very disappointed look on her face.

The issue was the turbine that was part of the original pier design.  Two weeks ago at Council committee they agreed to cancel the construction of the wind turbine that was once a key feature of the project that is now six years and $5 million over the original budget,  That plus the Cumberland hydro station where the energy that was going to be created by the turbine was to go,  is incapable of taking energy from outside the existing hydro grid.

City engineers apparently didn’t know this when the project went forward.  No one even thought about it when the Pier was literally falling into the lake.  To learn from Burlington Hydro that the Cumberland hydro station couldn’t accept energy from outside the hydro grid had some people spitting teeth but other than that there was nothing they could do.  Burlington Hydro, which is owned by the city, did say they would not ask the city to give back the $100,000 contribution they had made to the construction of the Pier.  But given that the gift was just moving money from one pocket to the other – that concession made little difference.

BurlingtonGreen Ex Dir Any Schnurr told Council how Kingston had managed to merge its history and the benefits of wind turbines to the benefit of everyone. Schnurr believed Burlington has missed such an opportunity in their decision to abandon a wind turbine on the pier.

When the engineers learned that the energy from the turbine had nowhere to go they came up with the idea of putting a battery pack in the electrical room and having the energy go there and be used later – at a cost of an additional $70,000  That just wasn’t on and the turbine was dropped like a hot potato.   The last thing this Council wanted was anything about the Pier that might even look controversial.  This was a “no brainer” as one council member put it.

Not so fast said Amy Schnurr, BurlingtonGreen’s executive director .  She wanted at least a staff report that would look at what the original benefits to the pier were with the turbine and then she advanced her case that the turbine should be a part of the pier, arguing that it would become something iconic for the city; that it would appear in all the city’s promotional literature and that in time the Cumberland station would be capable of taking a hydro feed from outside the grid.

Anything that even sniffs of renewable energy is BurlingtonGreen turf.  They saw the turbine as a renewable energy feature and on those grounds alone they felt it should remain.  Cost – well that wasn’t something they wanted to give much consideration to.  Did the city look at the pay-back cost of closing King Road when the Jefferson salamander was crossing the road?  Did they look at the costs or the payback period when they put in bicycle lanes?

Wind turbines on Wolfe Island close to Kingston, ON now dominate that city's skyline. BurlingtonGreen thinks we missed an opportunity to create an icon for our soon to be completed pier.

Schnurr believed there was a rationale given to support the benefits of the turbine serving as a high profile feature and a marketing tool when the design work was done and she wanted the city to at least review that rationale.  She may have been right from a policy aspect but the politics of spending anything more on the pier was just not on.  The fervent hope for this Council was to get to opening day without any problems.

Schnurr said BurlingtonGreen was unaware of the plans to kill the turbine – they just stumbled across this when reviewing the webcast of the committee meeting.  The story was told the day after the meeting in Our Burlington..

Schnurr had one main point to make – the missed opportunity.   The turbine has been ordered.  Install it and be transparent about its purpose both in the short and long term.

Take full advantage of what could become a visible profile of the city.  Unfortunately Schnurr was forgetting about the 22 storey “landmark” structure that a developer has a right to build a bit more than a stone’s throw from the pier.  She felt Installing the turbine would somehow push Ontario’s Power Generation to upgrade the Cumberland station – don’t think this puny little turbine is going to cause Ontario Power to do very much..

Councillor Meed Ward was the only person to take the Schnurr seriously; all the others were focused on the length of time it would take to pay back the cost of the battery pack.  Meed Ward wanted to know if BurlingtonGreen was prepared to listen as well as speak.  She didn’t come away convinced that BurlingtonGreen was prepared to listen and dropped her line of questioning.

The idea of a turbine on the pier was more for the statement it would make and aesthetics than for the actual energy it would generate. It was not going to be one of those massive wind turbines.

One of the things BurlingtonGreen doesn’t do very well is back away from their positions.  Schnurr wanted the turbine in place because environmentally it was the right thing to do and cost she maintained should not be an issue.  Only a person seriously out of touch with political reality in the city would argue for even an additional dime being spent on the Pier when it is as late as it is and as far over budget as it is.  The city’s image has taken a hammering over the Pier and they don’t want to risk the gains they have made in getting the project back on track.

A point that has to be made is that the turbine originally planned for the Burlington pier was relatively small and was thought of at a time when “going green” was new and the designers thought the turbine would make a strong statement.  In terms of generation capacity the turbine was very small and certainly not something that would loom out over the city.

Schnurr argued that to not include the turbine would be tantamount to saying “if you want to go green, forget about Burlington” and on that level she was pretty close to dead on.  The city is not seen as a place that fully embraces the “going green” approach.  That’s a battle worth continuing but it won’t be fought on the platform of the pier.  BurlingtonGreen will have to find some other battlefield.


Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 comments to She won the debate; she had the better arguments but in local politics that gets you squat.

  • Despite the public perception, the City of Burlington does not own Burlington Hydro. It is a separate entity unrelated to the municipal government, so your statement that “the gift was just moving money from one pocket to the other” is quite incorrect.
    Editor’s note:
    I checked with the city solicitor and she advised me that there is just one class of share in Burlington Hydro, which is a private company, and all the shares are owned by the city of Burlington.
    Burlington Hydro distributes its revenue by way of a dividend it pays the city.
    While Hydro is not a department of the city it is most definitely owned by the city.
    The delay in approving this comment was to be certain that our facts are correct.

  • Amy

    In response to S. Gillies reference above to BurlingtonGreen and the Walmart proposal, readers may want to learn of the comments in context and more information on the issue here:

  • Shannon Gillies

    I’m pleased with the arguments Amy Schnurr presented to council regarding the whole notion of “payback” time. That’s not really how renewable energy works. This turbine was about making a statement about Burlington’s commitment to environmental sustainability. That said, sometimes money is better spent elsewhere.

    Ms. Schnurr referred to the proposed Walmart turbine (2010) as a missed opportunity. I agree. That turbine would have produced more clean energy and been a symbol or corporate environmental responsibility. Oh, and the cost to taxpayers? Nothing. Zero. So why then was Burlington Green reticent to endorse that particular project at that time? When I asked them, they responded that they needed more specifics from Walmart. They also wrote on their website: “The impacts of wind typically include land use conflicts and bird and bat mortality. There is also the steel that the wind turbines are made of. Being a heavy industry, steel making has a major impact on the environment. The manufacturing process creates air, water and noise pollution while mining raw materials and the high-energy demands of steel making also contribute to pollution of the environment.” Hmm.

    Why was Councillor Meed Ward so vehemently opposed to the Walmart turbine that she requested our then MPP Joyce Savoline to present a petition (a 57-name embarrassment)to the Ontario Legislature? The noise…the bat murders…the blight on our landscape…the lack of public consulation…Why weren’t any of these same arguments made against the pier turbine, which wasn’t that much smaller (from what I understand).

    Politics is funny business.

    P.S. small correction: the cost of the battery packs was $70,000, not $700,000 (THAT would’ve been a problem!)

  • Walter Mulkewich

    How is it that Burlington Hydro can accept power from solar panels?