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Erie Shores Wind Farm Shares Many Traits With Local Farming Operations

Most Norfolk farmers don’t climb the height of a skyscraper during their day. But for Derek Deleye, general manager of the Erie Shores Wind Farm, that’s part of his job of “harvesting the wind” – a nature-generated “crop” that shares much in common with surrounding farm operations.


Wind Farm Aerial View
Aerial view of growing amongst pepper, asparagus, cucumber fields near Lake Erie.

Each of the 66 General Electric wind turbines that occupy the coast near Clear Creek is approximately as tall as a 25-storey building. Together, they generate enough emissions-free electricity to power about 23,000 Ontario households each year. This estimate is based on Erie Shores’ average annual electrical generation and Statistics Canada’s average household energy consumption of 772 KWh per month.


“I think there are 172 ladder rungs,” said Deleye, laughing. “I don’t get to go up as often now due to my managerial position, but my seven technicians climb up multiple times for spring and autumn maintenance, often expecting to spend six or more hours working on top.”

This wind farm forms part of Capstone Infrastructure, a Toronto-based and publicly-traded company that has 28 other clean renewable energy facilities across Canada, including wind, solar, run-of-river hydro, biomass and one natural gas co-generation plant. Erie Shores is currently Capstone’s largest operating wind farm with a nameplate capacity of 99MW.



Windfarm
Operations Manager Derek Deleye (left) with Pt. Burwell grower Bill Ringland, whose farm the towers in the background are on.

Raised on a tobacco farm near Delhi, Deleye joined Erie Shores as a wind technician in 2014, when it had been in operation for eight years. Deleye’s new job, with its irregular and often long hours working outdoors, periodic hard, physical work and “dealing with the elements on a daily basis” and “harvesting the resources of our planet” dovetails with his childhood agrarian formation.


It filled a vocational hole he experienced in his previous work in area factories, and at the coal-fired Ontario Hydro plant in Nanticoke.

Deleye said that his current work “got me back to a farm.”


“Being a millwright by trade I found something missing from these jobs. It was factory life, the disconnect from Mother Nature and being contained by four walls day in and day out. Becoming a wind tech filled that void.”

The location of Erie Shores Wind Farm was chosen after exhaustive preliminary studies were conducted prior to its coming on line in 2006. Besides having a strong wind resource, and finding accessible links to the existing Ontario Hydro Grid, the company needed to ensure the site didn’t interfere with the Long Point bird flight path – a major flight pathway in North America with World Biosphere protection.


Deleye worked at Nanticoke at the time, but followed the reports about Erie Shores’ development. “I am an avid outdoor person and I support the renewable energy cause. I had an interest in Norfolk County, especially Long Point with its hunting and migratory flight paths.”


The farm’s 66 towers sprawl across three townships – Bayham, Malahide and Norfolk. Its operation relies upon seven wind technicians, whom Deleye described as “highly skilled jacks of all trades, another similarity to working in agriculture, which I think any farmer can attest to.” Two high voltage technicians monitor the transmission lines from the site to two substations in Port Burwell and Tillsonburg. There is also accounting and inventory staff.

Said Deleye, “We have a small footprint compared with large scale operations (nuclear and carbon-based) that are put down. Our tower base is about 20 feet— with a 30 foot diameter across. This allows farmers to grow in the surrounding fields.” Erie Shores’ turbines are hosted by farming operations through land lease agreements across the three townships amidst a variety of crops, including peppers, asparagus, corn cucumbers and cash crops.


Deleye said that the towers were built with an estimated lifespan of 20-25 years. However, with maintenance and changing out sections within each tower’s 15 tonnes gearbox, the company hopes to extend the structures’ viability for decades to come.

The escalating global need to discontinue carbon-based technologies increased the demand for renewable energy technicians across Canada. Deleye notes that various community colleges, including Fanshawe and Niagara Colleges, now offer courses.


“Our wind farm has so many similarities to agricultural farming it blows my mind. Some days when visiting my home farm, I talk with my dad who is a lifelong farmer. We talk about things we have going on at Erie Shores, and how much they relate to jobs we have done on the family farm over the years. Like any farmer, although they may farm a different crop, we are all in the same business at the end of the day. 

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