Lake Ontario Offshore Wind Hits Some Hurdles

Like the United States, Canada has gotten nowhere in developing offshore wind power, even as Europe reaps massive amounts of energy from the sea. A project planned for Lake Ontario is aiming to become Canada’s first offshore wind farm, and the company leading the effort has just brought on Siemens to supply turbines [PDF] and signed up a roster of contractors. But as with the long-planned, much-disputed Cape Wind development off Massachusetts, Windstream Energy’s 130-turbine, 300-megawatt (MW) Wolfe Island Shoals project is encountering big hurdles.

For instance, there’s the not-so-small matter of the province of Ontario’s moratorium on offshore wind. The government enacted the moratorium in February 2011, saying more research was needed on the potential environmental impact of offshore wind development on freshwater lakes.

vanern wind farm sweden

image via Vindpark Vänern

“The recently installed Lake Vanern pilot project (pictured above) in Sweden is one of the only operational freshwater offshore projects in the world and a pilot project has been proposed in Ohio,” the Ministry of Environment said. “Ontario will monitor these projects and the resulting scientific knowledge. Ontario will work with our U.S. neighbours on research to ensure any future proposed projects protect the environment on both sides of the Great Lakes.”

In its announcement of the Siemens deal, Windstream noted that it “holds the only offshore wind power feed-in-tariff (FIT) contract in the province of Ontario, which was awarded by the Ontario Power Authority in May 2010.” But with the moratorium in place, that doesn’t count for much – to the company’s apparent frustration. Windstream President Ian Baines told the Hamilton (Ont.) Spectator he saw the FIT as a binding contract and suggested the project – at full scale – could be just the sort of study the province needs to get a better understanding off offshore wind on freshwater lakes.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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