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Great Lakes Article:

Silently harnessing the wind
By Anthony Reinhart
Globe and Mail
12/18/03



On Lake Shore Boulevard, where a stiff wind hacks away at the surface of Lake Ontario, the drone of traffic masks a softer sound.

You can barely hear the quiet revolution of the turbine's blades some 30 storeys up, where they catch that wind, convert it to power and send it into the city as fuel for heat and light.

While its power contribution is modest compared to the louder, dirtier engines of the city's economy -- the coal burners and nuclear plants -- the symbolism of Toronto's turbine is hard to miss: a clean and quiet model of simplicity, surrounded by an ever-complex, smog-laden, energy-gulping city.

Today at 11 a.m., a handful of people will gather near the turbine to celebrate its first birthday after a year of near-silent service, a year that incidentally saw the biggest blackout in the city's history.

Among the crowd will be two of the turbine's biggest boosters, whose histories suggest a willingness to let the winds carry them in interesting and unconventional directions: Joyce McLean, an environmental activist turned Toronto Hydro executive, and Ed Hale, a former businessman and self-described tech nerd who once chucked it all to sail the Caribbean.

It was their leadership, backed by a committed band of mostly unpaid enthusiasts, that culminated in a crane lowering the turbine's huge rotor into place on a brisk afternoon a year ago today.

"I guess I found myself here through a series of unpredictable steps, that's for sure," Ms. McLean, 52, says. She worked for Greenpeace for 10 years, then for the Ontario NDP and the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-op, before joining Toronto Hydro as director of environmental affairs in 1998.

But before all that, her love of nature grew, with the encouragement of her father, from the grounds of the family cottage on Potash Lake near Bancroft, Ont., and in the farmer's field near their home in North York.

"He would never call himself an environmentalist," she says. "It was too politically charged." Yet her father had a hunger for clean air after working the coal yards on Cherry Street, where he would take his daughter to see the ships dump their cargo in clouds of black dust, which she suspects caused the cancers that eventually killed him.

"I really was very much affected by that," Ms. McLean says.

She poured her own life into advocacy, fighting for the health of the Great Lakes, among other causes. Yet it's this windmill that stands as the most tangible result of her life's work -- and it came only after she joined the decidedly mainstream hydro utility.

"When you work for an advocacy organization, you're kind of in a luxury," she says.

"You can advocate for certain things and you don't really have to take responsibility for them. I wanted to move out of that, but keep that advocacy nature."

The wind turbine afforded her that chance in the late 1990s, when the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-op set up WindShare to raise half the money for the $1.7-million turbine project through sales of shares to city residents. Toronto Hydro signed on to pay the remainder.

When Ms. McLean moved from WindShare to Toronto Hydro to develop green-energy plans, Mr. Hale took her place at the co-op, after a board member told him about it.

"I didn't think wind was practical" as an energy source, Mr. Hale, 55, says. But before long, the retired owner of a computer-graphics firm found himself in WindShare's executive director's chair.

It's not such an unlikely place when he looks back on his youth in Galt (now Cambridge, Ont.), where the engineer's son rigged parachutes to kites and watched them float on the air. Later, he studied electrical engineering and took up gliding. And when he sold his Toronto graphics firm in the late 1980s, he and his wife took their son out of school and sailed for five years.

"I was always fascinated with things like this," Mr. Hale says, standing at the foot of the turbine he routinely climbs to perform maintenance. When he's not here or at WindShare's offices, he's at home near High Park keeping tabs on his baby.

It took four years and countless setbacks to complete, but today the turbine produces enough power for 250 homes -- a mere spark in a city the size of Toronto, but Mr. Hale, Ms. McLean and others see it as just the beginning. A second windmill is planned for Ashbridge's Bay and larger wind farms are being considered elsewhere on the Great Lakes.

As they celebrate today, they hope others see what they do, as they drive along Lake Shore in the roar of rush-hour. "I used to think good days were sunny," Mr. Hale says. "Now they're windy."


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