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Work continues on the wind turbine at the Exhibition grounds in Toronto on April 27, 2011. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Work continues on the wind turbine at the Exhibition grounds in Toronto on April 27, 2011. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Turbine output gone with the wind Add to ...

Toronto's iconic wind turbine on the edge of Lake Ontario has been brought to a grinding halt by a combination of a bearing failure and, ironically, high winds.

The lazily spinning, three-bladed turbine at the Exhibition grounds has been frozen since mid-March. It's the latest hiccup for the project which was launched in 2002 when 427 investors raised $800,000 to buy 8,000 shares in the 750-kilowatt generator.

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Windshare, the co-operative which runs the turbine, hopes to get it up and running as soon as the weather co-operates, said president Dianne Saxe.

"The cranes are there, the bearing is there and they're working on it," she said adding getting a bearing itself was a challenge. "Every time we'd find a bearing for sale it would be sold. Because of the demand for wind power, demand for these bearings is also high and they sell them as soon as they make them."

Indeed, the blades were off Wednesday before Thursday's windstorm hit.

Compounding the issue was the bankruptcy of the Dutch windmill manufacturer, Lagerwey, which rendered the maintenance contract and warranty useless, said Ms. Saxe.

While Windshare's original investors split dividend payments of $32,000 from the sale of power in 2005, profits since then have been ploughed back into the turbine for maintenance, Ms. Saxe said, adding the bearing replacement will cost $200,000.

"We had no idea how to run it, and, so in 2006, 2007, 2008 there was a lot of downtime, though it was working," she said. "Then a couple of volunteers took it on themselves to learn how to run it. Thanks to them in 2009 and 2010 it ran at 95 per cent, generating about 1000 megawatts (enough to power 200 homes for a year)."

Still making money from the turbine wasn't the goal, said Ms. Saxe, an environmental lawyer who drives a hybrid. It is also not part of the Ontario government's Feed In Tariff program, which subsidizes almost all other wind and solar projects in the province.

"It was built to demonstrate the technology and raise the profile of wind energy," she said.

Windshare hoped to build a second turbine at Ashbridges Bay and raised $300,000 from investors for that, but discussions with the Toronto Port Authority broke down. In the meantime, it is developing a project in the Bruce Peninsula pending transmission line logistics and is working on a similar concept, Solarshare, to install solar panels on rooftops in Toronto.

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