article : roof turbines are silly in vancouver

an article about why roof turbines are a waste of not only resources but money in vancouver: (link to original story in vancouver sun) I have highlighted portions of the article that are key to the point he is trying to make. A better use of resources is building a better building envelope to reduce energy demand, and then we would not be looking for fancy gizmos to generate energy, at least for heating/cooling, in the first place.

Roof turbines as sustainable chic?

Marlene Dietrich’s advice comes to mind: Beware trendiness as it will look ridiculous tomorrow

By Jonathan Baker, Vancouver Sun June 30, 2012

It looks as though wind turbines 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. I 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’s just that wind turbines are a lot more expensive than solar collectors from Costco and, since turbines have moving parts, they require service. Solar collectors last 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 rooftop 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 purée bats and finches.

According to a Government of Alberta website, an average wind speed of 18 km/h is rated poor for wind turbines. Vancouver’s average wind speed is 11-12 km/h. 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 windmills and take the burden off soon-to-be over-stressed government hydroelectric power. This, however, is not really about effectiveness or efficiency.

It is about fashion. It’s 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, that are somewhat shy of wind, and will actually be useful. If you believe the manufacturers, there may already be good systems that function in drafts. I would say call me a skeptic on that score, except that the word skeptic has become associated with “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 boardwalk 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 demonstrate 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 windmill on my roof. People would drop by waiting for the wind to blow.

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 anywhere, 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 homeowners to invest a fair amount of money in stuff that looks good and may work somewhere else, but cannot 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.

Jonathan Baker, a former Vancouver city councillor, is president of Baker and Baker Municipal Litigation Lawyers. This piece is from his blog,

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun



  1. I’ve always liked wind power, but its true we don’t have the wind for it here. But is solar really that much cheaper here? It still seems to be quite pricey?

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