Saturday, 16 June 2012


It looks as though wind turbine's will be the next step on Vancouver's road to "greenest city" sustainability.  Section 10 of our zoning bylaw allows them as long as the Planner considers the impacts on the neighbours.

Small turbines placed in areas blessed by frequent breezes can  generate  electricity in a reasonable breeze.  People in windy areas swear by them. 

I love machines. l have always thought about adding a small wind turbine to our Cabin on Nelson Island. There is plenty of wind as long as it is a westerly. It is just that they are a lot more expensive than solar collectors from Costco and, since turbines have moving parts they require service. Solar collectors are forever, or at least until an eagle drops a fish on one.

Notwithstanding the storm that took out Stanley Park a few years ago, Vancouver is on average neither a very breezy nor a very sunny City. It seems unlikely that small, roof top, wind turbines could be justified economically in an area already served by BC Hydro. Solar collectors, on the other hand are inexpensive, low maintenance, and have environmental advantages. Among these are that solar collectors do not puree' bats and finches.

According to a government of Alberta web site an average wind speed of 18 km/h is rated poor for wind turbines.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/eng4456    An average  22 km/h wind speed is good. Vancouver's average wind-speed is between 11-12 km/h. ttp://

Therefore the performance should not be very good. One would hope there are better ways of investing money, such as in LED light bulbs.

Theoretically the two complement each other. Sustainable correctness dictates that we install solar collectors and tin wind mills and take the burden off soon to be over-stressed government hydro electric power. This, however, is not really about effectiveness or efficiency. 

It is about fashion. Its about sustainable chic.

Home windmills in Vancouver will likely be the  Cartier  roof adornments of sustainability. Then over time the technology will improve in urban areas, like ours which is somewhat shy of wind, and will actually be useful. If you believe the manufacturers there may already be good systems out there. (There is one on YouTube based on 3000 year old Egyptian technology.) I would say, call me a sceptic on that score, except that the word sceptic has become associated with "denier", as in Holocaust Denier, in the new-speak of  sustainability.

 In the late 1940s, to have the first TV set in the neighbourhood was, in my hometown, Atlantic City, the penultimate status symbol. (The ultimate was wearing mink coats on the board walk even on warm summer nights. When it was really hot women would wear their appraisals) Neighbours who saw the antenna on the  roof knew that we had a Dumont TV with a six inch screen.  They would drop by to watch the test pattern. 

That was before they invented programs. 

To be able to show that you could  buy a machine that was absolutely useless showed a noble faith in technology. All it did was produce a circular CBS pattern on the screen, but we could say that one day they would have programs. Sure enough we eventually moved into the next phase, known today as  vast wasteland.  

I would love to have a tin wind mill on my roof. I would sit in the yard waiting for the wind to blow.  People would drive by for the educational experience of witnessing Newtons  first law of motion: bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.  

Sometimes it would move. What a moment that would be! The hood would  swoon at  the reduced carbon footprint. 

The ultimate symbol of conspicuous sustainability would be to park an electric Tesla car on the roof. Not only is it powered by clean energy,  but better, it couldn't go any where, thus meeting the apparent goals of our city fathers.

It is likely that City hall wants to see those of us living in over-valued homes who do not ride bikes, pass the commitment test by putting windmills on our roofs. 

A better idea would be for the City, through Science World, to provide an annual prize for inventors. I bet they could get great ideas from high school students on how to generate power from waves, tides, wind, horses, baked beans and anything else.

Encouraging home owners to invest a fair amount of money in stuff that looks good and may work somewhere else, but can not be economically justified here, will in the end just turn people off. They will see it as another government screw up.  It may be trendy but that fact  brings to mind Marlene Dietrich's advice:  Beware of  trendiness. What looks good today will look ridiculous tomorrow.


  1. Jonathan, those wind speed stats from Vancouver, are they measured upwind or downwind from City Hall?

    1. City Hall is an ill wind that never blows good from any direction.

  2. Posted on my Facebook as:
    "This is an excellent, witty essay on sustainability where if all of us lived in tin houses we would worry about eagles dropping sloppy fishes on our roofs, but what if tin houses were either de rigueur or mandated for efficacious reasons? Read on MacDuff... and enjoy. It can be your city Jonathan is talking of - it does not have to be Vancouver. P.S. Jonathon and I served on the Vancouver School Board in the mid eighties and were part of the egregious eight or naughty nine who were fired by Provincial Government for reasons of political expediency and sabre rattling.

    1. Graham,
      Interesting that you mention that school board. It was controlled by the predecessors of our current council. You and I were in the minority. The Board was fired because it refused to prepare a budget. At the time Vancouver Taxpayers were protected by the Provincial Government. There is no such protection for the taxpayers of the City of Vancouver today. What a sorry state of affairs.