Ed Hale has had a life long love affair with the wind. In his earlier years, he earned his pilot’s license for glider planes and, upon retiring from his computer graphics company, spent five years sailing around the Caribbean. Upon his return to Toronto, he found a friend involved in a neighbourhood start up program aimed to providing the city with community-based renewable energy. Toronto Renewable Energy Co-Operative (TREC) was born in 1998; a year later Ed created and was selected founding President of WindShare, with goals to develop the first urban wind turbine in North America. Thus began a five-year journey to emulate Denmark’s co-operative based model for community-owned renewable energy. In early 2003, a 750 kWh wind turbine was harnessing the wind off the shores of Lake Ontario on the grounds of Exhibition Place in the core of the city; it has since generated almost 3 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of emissions-free electricity for the citizens of Toronto. TreeHugger talked with Ed about starting a co-op and the growing pains, pitfalls and successes along the way.
TreeHugger: First of all, why the co-operative model?
Ed Hale: The co-operative model is inherently democratic. Each member gets one vote regardless of the number of shares they own. It prevents any single entity from taking over the direction. It is also easier to raise funds publicly than in a conventional business model, where going through the securities commission is very time consuming and extremely expensive. Also, we wanted this project to be owned by the community and stay with the people of Toronto.
TH: Are there any drawbacks to this model? Could it be too democratic?
EH: Not really -- the co-op model works similar to a business model with a board of directors and such. We don’t go to the members (374 for the initial turbine) with day to day operations.
TH: What were some of the biggest obstacles facing WindShare in finding a site and getting approvals for this project?
EH: We needed to get approvals from all levels of government and in many instances we had to keep going back. For instance, we had to take this project to the provincial cabinet three times. In finding the site, early on in the process, we decided that we wanted to be by the water where we could get consistent winds. We had several sites in mind that we were trying to make work but were not making much progress on when someone suggested Exhibition Place. We assumed that it would be nearly impossible to get the proper permits and approvals but found that the CEO (Dianne Young) was very keen on the project and did what was needed. We couldn’t be happier with the site -- not only is it a great spot for wind but there are about 250,000 people who see the turbine on a daily basis helping us raise awareness.
TH: Why was the permitting and approvals process so difficult?
EH: Well, some of it is politics and some of it is education. The government at the time was not really interested in doing anything for MPP’s from a different party. Then we are also dealing a lot with misinformation such as op-ed pieces in newspapers saying the noise levels were similar to a 747 airplane. It’s like most wind projects: it’s too noisy; it’s an eyesore; it will kill birds. We had to address those concerns not only with government officials but with the public as well.
TH: If wind energy is the most cost-efficient form of new power generation out there – why is it not being developed more?
EH: Policy. Right now, government policies are heavily influenced by traditional energy suppliers and their lobby groups. Here in Ontario, the nuclear lobby has done a good job convincing the government that it is the best choice to supply energy moving forward despite a long history of problems and costs that are never considered. Another example would be British Columbia, where some of the best wind is available for generation but has no significant wind projects at all.
TH: How do we change that?
EH: We need to educate not only the public but our elected officials as well. We need to drive the policy makers to make informed and proper decisions. Making the environment an election issue would help. Our last federal election essentially ignored the environment and we cannot allow that to happen again.
TH: Thanks for taking the time to chat -- any plans for another big sailing trip?
EH: I’ve got a house in Victoria where I will move to after Lakewind where I hope to start up something similar in BC.
Lakewind is the new project for WindShare. It is set to offer shares to a 10 MW development near Kincardine in Ontario with hopes to start operations late 2007.
[Interview conducted by TreeHugger intern Lien Thoo.]