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National Post - Leading by example

National Post - Financial Post
Leading by example
By: Mary Teresa Bitti
Thursday, October 15, 2009

When former U.S. president Bill Clinton was in Toronto over the summer, he was asked what he thought of the city. Without missing a beat, he replied: Any city that has a wind turbine in the middle of it has to be good.

From where she sits, Dianne Young, CEO of Exhibition Place, sees the urban wind turbine on CNE grounds as an important symbol and, in fact, an icon for the city. "It has helped educate folks about wind turbines and renewable energies generally. People come down, ask questions and learn how it works. That's the great thing about demonstration projects."

In fact, says Joyce McLean, director of strategic issues at Toronto Hydro Corp., demonstration projects play an important role in moving the City of Toronto's climate change plan forward and in fostering public acceptance of renewable technologies.

Toronto Hydro is working with the city on both fronts. In 2003, Toronto Hydro Energy Services and community-based co-operative WindShare commissioned the wind turbine at Exhibition Place - North America's first urban wind turbine - as a demonstration project.

It has since become an educational tool both for the thousands of students who have visited the site and the countless delegations from the public and private sectors - developers, utilities, municipalities, energy policy/decision makers - inside and outside the city and country. "We have also hosted numerous delegations from China who wanted to see the setting for an urban wind turbine," Ms. McLean says.

And, of course, there are the environmental benefits. In fact, the wind turbine produces 1,400 megawatt hours of power a year; enough to meet the needs of 250 homes. And it reduces emissions by 494 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

But that's not all. The benefits have spun off in other ways. For example, the relationship between Toronto Hydro and WindShare evolved into the development of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, which is all about community power and groups coming together and having a say and stake in their electricity use.

And it has led to other demonstration projects. For example, Toronto Hydro has installed a 36-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at its facility at 500 Commissioners St. "The solar panels were mounted in 2004 ," Ms. McLean says. "At the time it was the largest such system in the country. We've since been surpassed and I'm happy about that because that's the goal."

In fact, Exhibition Place built a 100-kilowatt photovoltaic project on top of the roof of the Horse Palace. This is really more of a pilot project to get some information out there. We intentionally installed different types of panels and different slants on the panels and released a study on how those panels are working," Ms. Young says. "We've had a lot of people call and want to come down and see it."

For her part, Elizabeth McDonald, president of Canadian Solar Industries Association, the value of a demonstration project particularly when it comes to renewable energy, cannot be underestimated. "Many Canadians have an idea of what solar energy is but they don't really understand how it works. I often hear from people that Canada is too cold for solar power to work. Demonstration projects help our members show off the technology, explain it and answer any questions individuals may have so that it becomes a more credible and viable option."

The fact is, the degree of knowledge about renewable energy is thin and these demonstration models offer an outlet to show people how they work, Ms. McLean says. "A lot of people dismiss pilot projects because they are too small to have a real impact. But the fact is you get a lot of learning out of them. Perhaps more importantly, they inspire. Part of the promotion of renewable energy on a pilot scale is to help capacity building in the sector. When we first put the Exhibition Place wind turbine in, there were less than 10 wind turbines in the entire province. Now there are hundreds and hundreds of them."

 

To view this article on the National Post website, please click here.

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