If you’ve ever been to Niagra Falls – or even if you’ve only seen the falls in pictures – you’re probably familiar with the ‘vast and prodigious cascadence of water’ as described by Charles Dickens in 1842. What you may not know is that the unbroken fall of water over the Horseshoe Falls is artificially maintained to impress the tourists. And that the nighttime light display at the falls disguises the fact that vast amounts of water are diverted at night to generate electricity.
Unlike Ohio, which generates more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal, most of Ontario’s electricity comes from hydro power. Ontario’s electric utility is referred to as Hydro One, even though some of its electricity is generated by coal. But the province is getting away from coal and other fossil fuels. And two new sources are generating a lot of interest.
The latest is a technology that’s brand new to North America. It’s called hydrokinetic energy. A Houston energy company has a proposal to put turbines in the water below the falls in the Niagra River. The turbines use the energy of the river to turn a generator on the surface. The company president plans a comprehensive study of the impact on fish. He says preliminary studies show that fish can move right through the slowly turning blades without harm. But the Niagra-Buffalo Riverkeeper – who oversees environmental remediation efforts – says there’s a lot more to learn about the impact on fish and river bottom sediments. She’s also concerned about how the structures might impact recreational uses of the river.
West of Niagra off Long Point, near the small fishing town of Port Burwell, wind power is the new green energy taking over the landscape. For several kilometers along the shore, 66 wind turbines at the Erie Shores Wind Farm generate about 100 megawatts of clean power. They’re clustered on local agricultural farms in groups of three to five, their three blades making a faint whooshing sound with every revolution. Canadian bird experts say this region between two important migratory bird staging areas – one at Long Point and the other at Point Pelee – is a good spot for the turbines. They say the turbines aren’t having a significant impact on bird populations. But a new human health concern has recently arisen. Some residents are complaining of headaches and nausea which they claim are caused by the low hum from the turbines. There are no peer-reviewed studies that substantiate their concerns.