Farming the Wind for Electricity

By Paul Gipe


The following article by Paul Gipe appeared in the April 26, 2004 edition of the Toronto Star. The Toronto Star is the largest circulation newspaper in Canada and is the newspaper of record in Canada’s most populous province.

Ontario farmers could harness the wind to produce one-third of the province’s power , writes Paul Gipe

Ontario farmers could spin profits from the wind, while at the same time meeting the province’s need for clean new generating capacity and pumping billions into the rural economy.

They’re more than willing to do so, as evidenced by the packed workshops on wind energy I’ve attended in the past few weeks. And they’re certainly able to do their part.

But they can do so only when given the chance.

What the province’s farmers need, in order to make widespread use of wind energy, are advanced renewable tariffs (ARTs). These are the same tariffs that have powered the explosive growth of wind and solar energy in Europe for more than a decade.

Advanced renewable tariffs guarantee farmers the right to connect their wind turbines to the grid without the need for a legion of attorneys at their side, and also guarantee a fixed price per kilowatt-hour for their wind-generated electricity over a fixed period of time.

Such tariffs work because they’re simple and transparent. They work because they’re bankable. Farmers understand this.

While the government’s plan for an initial 300-megawatt quota of new renewable generation is a step in the right direction, it’s a timid step, and woefully short of what’s needed.

Ontario is ripe for a program similar to those in Germany and Spain, countries that employ advanced renewable tariffs.

Spain installed 2,000 MW of wind generation within five years and another 2,000 MW in less than two years. Germany installed more than 3,000 MW in one year alone.

They were able to do so because they unleashed the power of farmers and co-operatives to determine where and how much new wind generating capacity would be built. These countries specifically avoided bidding systems.

Spain and Germany are examples of what can be accomplished in a short period of time.

Ontario farmers and farmer-owned co-operatives could install 8,000 MW of wind turbines by 2012, providing 10 per cent of Ontario’s electrical supply ­ if given the opportunity. Ambitious? Yes, but not unreasonable.

Wind turbines currently provide 3.5 per cent of the electricity used in Germany, the world’s third largest industrial economy. The country’s targets are 12.5 per cent in 2010 and 20 per cent in 2020. Germans fully expect to meet these targets, enabling them to phase out their aging nuclear reactors.

France, like Ontario long a bastion of nuclear power, followed Germany’s lead and implemented advanced renewable tariffs. French bureaucrats can’t process fast enough the 14,000 MW of planning applications filed. And these are applications for projects limited by statute to 12 MW, or only six to 12 of today’s turbines. Such clusters of turbines are the ideal size for Ontario municipalities and co-operatives.

Greece, Austria, and Japan have now followed suit with similar renewable tariffs. Why not Ontario?

Unlike Ontario’s proposed bidding system, ARTs would permit farmers and other rural landowners to participate directly in Ontario’s new electricity market, from which they are currently excluded. Such tariffs have enabled hundreds of thousands of German and Danish farmers to develop, own, and operate their own wind turbines. Nearly 5 per cent of the Danish population own a share in a neighbouring wind turbine.

Nearly 250,000 Germans own a similar stake in German wind turbines. It’s this community ownership that is one reason why wind energy has been so successful in these countries and so resistant to naysayers.

There are no technical reasons why Ontario farmers can’t contribute to solving the province’s power shortage by installing their own commercial-size wind turbines, only political ones.

There are 55,000 farms in Ontario. If just half each installed one 1-megawatt wind turbine ­ similar in size to the one at Exhibition Place ­ they could eventually operate 27,000 MW of new generating capacity.

A fleet of wind turbines on this scale, distributed across the province, could produce one-third of Ontario’s electricity and even provide a goodly portion of firm capacity for those unfortunate times when the reactors are down.

Under renewable tariffs, each farmer could earn up to $150,000 per year in net revenue, once the capital costs have been recovered.

Collectively, the province’s wind turbines would pump $4 billion through the rural Ontario economy. These are dollars that would stay in the province, benefiting all of Ontario, not dollars exported outside the province to pay for imported coal or natural gas.

Ontario farmers could earn billions in new revenue, helping them to stay on the land and do what they do best, their revenues spurring a rural economic revival.

Advanced renewable tariffs are the kind of creative program provincial Energy Minister Dwight Duncan has demanded. Let’s give farmers the tools they need to build a bright future for themselves ­ and for Ontario.


At the time of writing, Paul Gipe was the acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.