Last week, on December 20th, a moderate ice storm skimmed the Ontario side of Lake Ontario. It was no big deal as these storms go – the 1998 storm that brought the Wolfe Island CKWS tower down was far far worse. Since 1998 there have been maybe 3 similar smaller storms. Apparently it was big enough to shut the 198 MW Wolfe Island Wind Project down. In the early afternoon of December 20, after several hours of “light freezing drizzle”, the Wolfe Island production went to zero. Going to zero is not a big deal – all wind farms spend a fair amount of time at zero. But in this case the winds were still moderate, in the 20 kph range, easily strong enough to produce electricity.
We can all guess what happened. The ice caused the blades to become unbalanced and the computers brought it all to a stop. The only question was, how long would it stay down? The blades are white, unheated, and getting a helicopter to spray de-icer on them would be problematical. How long before a warm spell or some sun? In Ontario in Winter, that could be a long time. As it happens, it was a little over a week. On December 27 at 10 AM the production numbers moved off of zero for the first time since the 20th.
We all know what happens to our standard of living (and in the Winter that could include dying) if we lose electrical service. Luckily there’s enough traditional reliable generation capacity in Ontario that the wind production is entirely superfluous (and most of which is exported at a loss). Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, is fond of saying how wind energy is replacing traditional sources. Thank goodness he’s wrong about that.