Toronto’s WindShare Coop

By Paul Gipe

North America’s first truly urban wind turbine is located on the grounds of the Canadian National Exposition, the CNE or “ExPlace” to locals. While urban siting of commercial wind turbines is common in northern Europe, especially in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, the installation of the Lagerwey wind turbine in downtown Toronto was a groundbreaking effort.

The Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative led a five-year struggle to install the 750 kW. TREC was nothing if not tenacious. The fought all the familiar battles familiar to any wind developer in North America: noise, birds, property values. But they stuck with their vision of a cooperatively owned wind turbine in the heart of Canada’s biggest city.

Patterned after similar projects in Copenhagen, the turbine development was a joint venture between TREC and Toronto Hydro, the municipal utility. TREC’s portion became the WindShare cooperative with 425 members.

The direct drive turbine overlooks the harbor front at Exhibition Place, the site of Canada’s largest trade fare. The site wasn’t TREC’s first choice.

Opposition from a nearby yacht club and questions about who owns the land beneath the original site at the city’s sewer treatment plant forced TREC to cast about for alternative locations. ExPlace came to the rescue.

To say the site is prominent is an understatement. The turbine can be seen from all approaches to the west, including Toronto’s international airport. Joggers, strollers, and picnickers all share the space with the turbine.

TREC had planned to install two such on the city’s lake front using what board member Jim Salmon calls cooperative net billing. The coop would deliver electricity from the turbines to Toronto Hydro. The turbines’ production would then be used to offset the retail rate on coop members’ electricity bills in proportion to the amount of investment each had in the turbine. Instead of coop members installing small turbines on their own property, says Salmon, the coop would have bought large turbines and installed them at good sites where they would be most productive. In this way, members gained economies-of-scale by using more cost-effective turbines at more productive sites.

However, for a host of regulatory reasons, the Toronto Coop had to abandon the concept in its infancy. They adroitly changed direction and turned toward an investment coop as in Denmark, selling shares to members for the construction of two turbines. The first machine was installed at the end of 2002. It was hoped that the second turbines would quickly follow. That didn’t happen. Shortly after installing the turbine, Lagerwey went bankrupt. Worse, the then conservative government reneged on its introduction of a so-called competitive electricity market, squashing any plans WindShare and Toronto Hydro had of selling into the market.

Since the collapse of Ontario’s brief experiment with an open electricity market, WindShare has worked closely with Toronto Hydro to find a long-term solution.

Along with one other wind turbine in Ontario, WindShare’s Lagerwey has no contract or power purchase agreement to sell power into the grid. These pioneering projects, or “orphans” as the province calls them, were bypassed when the new government issued RFPs for new renewable generation.

In early 2006 WindShare’s experiment in cooperative ownership now awaits a contract from the province as part of a campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs launched by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. The Toronto NGO is a spin-off from the TREC/WindShare development in response to the interest in cooperative wind projects across the province.

OSEA expects the government to introduce Standard Offer Contracts that will pay $0.11 CAD/kWh for electricity from the WindShare turbine. This is expected to put WindShare on a firmer financial footing than at present.

Despite the problems posed by the change in government policy, the WindShare turbine is both highly visible and highly popular. It can be seen turning peacefully above the city’s skyline on most days. Images of the turbine appear frequently in advertising and local news programs.

The coop holds an annual summer picnic beneath the wind turbine and its annual general membership meeting early in the year.

WindShare and those pioneers who made it possible can serve as a model for the other great cities bordering the Great Lakes.