By Brandy Harrison
WOLFE ISLAND — Under the renewable energy approval process, no new wind turbine projects can get approval unless a teardown plan is in place, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
But that’s not the case for Eastern Ontario’s first wind turbine project at Wolfe Island, where 86 turbines operate across the water from Kingston.
The Township of Frontenac Islands, which includes Wolfe Island, signed a 40-year agreement with the developer, Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation, before teardown plans became mandatory. The agreement, however, does stipulate that turbine owners, including future owners, would pay $640,000 annually to the township.
While the transition to current owner TransAlta was seamless in 2009, the agreement doesn’t spell out who’s left holding the bag if the turbines need to be taken down in 2029 and there’s no money set aside for it, said mayor Denis Doyle.
“That was one thing that perhaps in hindsight could have been done better,” he said, concerned it’s not clear but confident that TransAlta and the province will work out the details. “I’m sure they’re not going to abandon them and leave some rusty metal sticking into the sky.”
A Wolfe Island farmer who requested anonymity confirmed his lease agreement says decommissioning is the developer’s responsibility.
While teardown costs vary, it’s not cheap. The price tag for the island’s 86 turbines could be between $2.6 and $6.9 million, based on worldwide decommissioning costs of $30,000 to $80,000 per turbine.
In all agreements now, decommissioning costs fall to the developer and the ministry ensures the plan is followed, including reviewing it six months before work gets underway to dismantle equipment and restore land to its original use, said ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan.
Landowners and municipalities won’t be left staring up at rusty, 300-ft. towers if wind developers are nowhere in sight when contracts run out, even if a company goes belly up, Jordan said in an email. “The developer is still responsible whether they are bankrupt, left the company, etc. But it’s fair to say that if a developer were unable to uphold its decommissioning requirements, (the Ontario government) would pursue our options of recourse, including legal means, to hold them responsible.”
Developers also have an economic incentive for cleanup, said Brandy Giannetta, the Ontario regional director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association. “These components are very valuable, even decades later. We’re talking about aluminum, copper, and steel. All those things can be resold or reused. They’d be walking away from an investment if they left them in the ground to rot.”
Some developers also consider upgrades to keep the turbines spinning, she said.
To cover worst-case scenarios, some municipalities negotiate a decommissioning fund where the developer pays annual fees into the fund held in trust to pay for teardown. The amount is re-evaluated periodically to reflect current costs, Giannetta said.
“Things change over a 20- to 30-year period and they want to make sure they have a safety net.”