Constructing the largest wind farm in Europe

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania.

“When you drive from Constanta you can see the whole area is filled with wind turbines and it is a nice sensation, a nice feeling,” says Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600MW Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania.

Miklos says that he “fell into” this job. He began working in the construction industry when he finished university over 30 years ago. His experience took him to Hungary, Greece and on projects across Romania but he never thought that he would manage the construction of the largest wind farm in Europe.

Miklos Szilagyi descends the stairs of a turbine on the Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

Miklos Szilagyi descends the stairs of a turbine on the Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania.

“It wasn’t easy,” he says. They were starting from scratch and everyone was learning on the job.

“Each day during the construction we were thinking, what will happen today. There were a lot of issues,” says Miklos.

They had to pour 240 foundations, each one different: some were situated on rock, some needed pilings and some were easy. Miklos doesn’t think that there are two foundations that were made the same way. Each required 450m3 of concrete and 40,000kg of steel. The first loads of cement had to be shipped from Germany until Romanian manufactures managed to produce the grade required. They even had to construct a new concrete plant onsite to keep up with demand.

Wind turbines backdrop the small Romanian town of Fantanele. (Robert van Waarden)

Wind turbines backdrop the small Romanian town of Fantanele.

“Our knowledge was not huge. Everybody was learning, reading, talking together, and each day finalising something. We had a very very good team here.”

It took three and a half years of work but the wind farm came online in November of 2012. Wind energy accounted for 19% of the Romanian grid production when Miklos showed me around the site. Fantanele-Cogealac was flatout producing 580MW.

The newly painted Orthodox church in Fantanele. (Robert van Waarden)

The newly painted Orthodox church in Fantanele.

Fantanele-Cogealac is giving back to the neighbouring communities. The church in Fantanele has been repainted with support from the wind farm; a new market has been constructed; and furniture has been bought for the schools. 300 kms of roads have been built for the turbines, which means local farmers can now access their land in wet weather. Similarly, the villagers are working to improve their homes and taking more pride in their community. A lot has changed here in five years and the guaranteed tax income is going keep the changes flowing.

Miklos’ skills are required at an upcoming hydro project and he will soon sign off at the wind farm but he is walking away proud of his work and his turbines.

“They are very nice. Especially they are nice because they look nice,” he says.

Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania (Robert van Waarden)

Miklos Szilagyi, construction site manager for the largest wind farm in Europe, the 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac in Romania

Romanian Monks Turn to Wind Energy

Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery and the man responsible for the wind turbine and renewable energy at Casian. (Robert van Waarden)

Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery and the man responsible for the wind turbine and renewable energy at Casian.

You could call Father Iustin a pioneer. He installed a wind turbine long before the hundreds that you can now see from this hill appeared. He was the first monk in Constanta region to power his monastery with renewable technology and now he gladly advises other monasteries to do the same.

“I like being a monk,” says Father Iustin Petre, one of the founders of the Casian Monastery in Romania. “It is free, no stress.”

It is quiet up here. Birds float on the wind over a landscape that would be at home in the Mediterranean. A small child’s toy spins on a post and even the cats and dogs that inhabit every Romanian scene are friendlier.

Letting one’s eyes drift across the landscape, it is impossible to miss the forest of wind turbines that surround Casian. The largest wind farm in Europe, Fantanele–Cogealac, is everywhere. The hundreds of wind turbines might put some people off, especially at night when the aviation warning lights flicker, synchronized, like a ghost city. But Father Iustin likes them.

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania as seen from the Casian Monastery. (Robert van Waarden)

The 600mw Fantanele-Cogealac wind farm in Romania as seen from the Casian Monastery.

He was way ahead of the game. Before this 600MW wind park changed his view, Father Iustin had already tapped into the wind resource here. Around 10 years ago, Father Iustin started looking for a solution to the monastery’s energy problem. Connecting it to the grid was not an option, as that would have cost tens of thousands of euros. The obvious solution was to build a wind turbine. With the help of an old truck alternator, Father Iustin and the monks built the first solution to their energy problems.

That first turbine has long been replaced. In its place stands a new 2kW wind turbine made in China. It spins practically all the time, casting its shadow towards the solar array that forms the base of the renewable system at Casian. Father Iustin says it is so windy here that a gust sometimes breaks the wind turbine, forcing him to replace or repair it.

Father Iustin Petre prays during service. (Robert van Waarden)

Father Iustin Petre prays during service.

Father Iustin is very happy with the whole renewable energy system at Casian. It supports the lives of the 5 monks at the monastery, powering their fridges, washing machine, stove, lights and one laptop computer. Perhaps most importantly, it powers the water pump that is responsible for pumping water 150m vertical meters from the well.

This monastery is built on the site of the birthplace of Saint John Casian, a man whose writings helped define the base and practices of Monasticism. There is a cave here that draws pilgrims. In that cave is an icon of Saint Casian, the wind turbines reflecting in the glass. Somehow it seems that Casian approves.

The new church that is being reconstructed at the Casian monastery in Romania. (Robert van Waarden)

The new church that is being reconstructed at the Casian monastery in Romania.

On Sundays the faithful come to the Monastery for lunch and to worship. There are often more people than the monks can handle in their little church so they are building a bigger one. Construction relies on donations and for the moment, “she grows very well,” says Father Iustin. It certainly helps that they can use power tools and cement mixers, which are indeed powered by renewable energy.

At least 10 monasteries in the area have followed in the footsteps of Casian and have some sort of renewable energy system. To Father Iustin it is clear that the wind can provide.

A monk at the Casian Monastery in Romania looks at the two wind turbines that are installed as part of the renewable energy system. (Robert van Waarden)

A monk at the Casian Monastery in Romania looks at the two wind turbines that are installed as part of the renewable energy system.

Hitting the Jackpot with Wind Energy in Poland

(l-r) Mieczys?aw and Miros?awa Horodiuk  in their home in the Polish commune of Kobylnica. (Robert van Waarden)

“We feel like we’ve won the lottery.”

Miroslawa and Mieczyslaw Horodiuk sit on a couch in their living room, their aged cat stares through the window. Here in Konczewo in north western Poland a late spring snow has fallen, delaying the spring planting for this farming family. They rest easy knowing that summer will come and they now have a guaranteed income.

10 years ago a wind energy developer approached the Horodiuks to lease part of their farmland for a wind turbine. They were sceptical about this opportunity. It would have been difficult for them to agree if they were on their own, but they had support.

Leszek Kuli?ski, mayor of Kobylnica, Poland. (Robert van Waarden)

Leszek Kulinski, mayor of Kobylnica, Poland.

The citizens of Kobylnica had been prepared for such an event. Leszek Kulinski, mayor of Kobylnica, became interested in wind turbines while on holiday in Denmark. (His wife complained that 80% of the photographs he took were of wind turbines.) Leszek wanted to bring this industry to Kobylnica. He travelled to Germany to research and to investigate if it was safe for the community. He returned determined to make his commune attractive to wind energy developers.

His efforts have made Kobylnica the best rural commune in the country for renewable energy projects.

It was difficult to get the people onside. Kobylnica was the first commune in Poland to take steps to build community support for wind energy from the ground up. The mayor and his team had to develop their own processes to raise awareness. Many consultations were held and input from the residents was taken into consideration. It worked. When the wind developers came calling; the Horodiuks were ready and willing to work with them.

A snow covered field seen from a wind turbine in Kobylnica, Poland. (Robert van Waarden)

A snow covered field seen from a wind turbine in Kobylnica, Poland. 

And it’s not only farmers who lease their land who’ve hit the jackpot – the whole town benefits too. The taxes from the wind energy installations make up over 10% of the community’s annual budget. It is estimated that by 2016 it will be 20%. Kobylnica has been ranked as Poland’s best commune to live (2009) and the best commune for renewable energy (2009, 2010). The taxes are helping to transform the community and Leszek now has his eyes set on solar energy.

Firewood is piled outside a shed on Miros?awa Horodiuk's farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Firewood is piled outside a shed on Miroslawa Horodiuk’s farm. 

The partnership between commune and developers has other dividends. Tundra, the developers of the wind turbines on the Horodiuks land, had to build new roads for transportation. They replaced roads that were by all accounts terrible. They also sponsor the sports teams in Kobylnica and funded the reconstruction of the local church shrine in Lulemino.

For Miroslawa and Mieczyslaw, as landowners, the community support and knowledge was invaluable. It helped them navigate the legal documents and they could seek advice if they needed it. Their story is just one among many in Kolbynica. There are many people here that have ‘won the lottery’.

The two turbines on the Horodiuk’s land work peacefully with the agriculture below and Miroslawa enjoys having them there. The quarterly payment for the leasing of their land is one reason, but he also likes the notion that they are helping build a sustainable future.

In Kobylnica, renewable energy is taking the commune forward and in the words of Leszek, “we have to go forward, we are number one, but we have to keep that status.”

Miros?awa Horodiuk rests against a wind turbine on his farm. (Robert van Waarden)

Miroslawa Horodiuk rests against a wind turbine on his farm. 

The Stories TransCanada is afraid you’ll see – Energy East

Bob Smoker

Recently my work creating Along the Pipeline was singled out by TransCanada and their (former) PR firm Edelman as a threat to their Energy East project. The statement in question comes from a Reasearch Synthesis that was leaked to Greenpeace and can be found on page 11. It reads:

Image: Edelman Leak

I don’t know if I should be shocked or honoured that I seem to have the ability to ‘create an emotional response that can override logic and reasoning.’

Along the Pipeline has always been about the stories and opinions shared by people that I met on my journey. Along the way I encountered people that agreed with the project, disagreed with the project, and those that are still making up their minds.

Mike Gerbrandt

These documents clearly show that TransCanada was considering using deceitful tactics to attack environmental advocates, and also one of their key worries is the spread of real stories from real people. They would prefer to write the script for stories from a fabricated grassroots movement – with comments disabled – while attacking and silencing the voices and opinions of regular people along their pipeline route. It is clear that TransCanada is interested in pushing one-sided spin, and is not comfortable with an honest, open debate about impacts on communities and the climate.

Targeting artists that share real stories is the sign of a company that knows it’s losing its social license. If they can’t be trusted to engage in fair, democratic debate, can they be trusted to build a pipeline 4500km across Canada, over hundreds of waterways, enabling an explosion of tar sands growth? Or do we want a different future?

If you believe in the value of real stories then take a moment to watch and share this one from Nora Gould in Alberta.

If you believe that real voices should be heard and can help me continue this project, please donate below.

Published: Energy East Photography in Photo Life

The Dec/Jan issue of Photo Life Magazine features the Along the Pipeline project. Along the Pipeline is a portrait project that documents the people and communities along TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline route.

It is great to see this article in Canada’s top photo magazine. It is important that this story reaches different audiences and I am thrilled with the job that the publishers did with the project. If you are in Canada go and pick up a copy from your local magazine store.

energy east photography

Along the Pipeline – A portrait project along the Energy East pipeline route published in Photo Life Magazine.

Energy East Multimedia – Along the Pipeline

The following five multimedia pieces were completed for my Along the Pipeline project focusing on the proposed Energy East pipeline. They include Nora Gould, a mother, poet and rancher (in that order) from Alberta, Henry Harris, a fisherman on the Bay of Fundy and Ryan Theriault, owner of Tranquil Acres. Also included are Crystal Greene, an Anishinaabe Activist and Serge Simon, the chief of the Kanesatake Mohawk.

All five individuals are concerned about the potential impact that the Energy East pipeline could have on their communities and livelihood.

Meeting the Canadian’s Energy East would affect – Exhibit in Toronto

This blog post originally appeared on Environmental Defence’s website.

Meeting the Canadians that Energy East puts at risk

It was a typical northern Ontario day on the shores of Shoal Lake, when I really got it.

I was a month into a photography project to highlight the voices of people along the proposed Energy East pipeline route. I was interviewing Chief Fawn Wapioke of Shoal Lake 39. We had retreated from the mosquitos outside to a couch in the living room.

Bob Smoker

Fawn was talking about making decisions based on how they would affect future generations. I’d heard other individuals share similar sentiments before. But that day, Fawn’s toddler twins were playing at our feet. Listening to Fawn’s words and watching those kids play, it really sank in.

This was clearly about more than one pipeline. This was about building a different system – one where a clean environment and a sustainable economy provide a resilient system for future generations to thrive.

Last spring, I traced Energy East’s proposed 4,600 km route. All those kilometres provide a lot of stories, a lot of opinions and a lot of cups of coffee. This country we call Canada is a beautiful land full of beautiful people. Everywhere I went on my journey along the pipeline, people gave me hours and days of their time. They shared their life stories, homes, and food with a photographer determined to find out what Canadians and First Nations thought about plans for a massive new tar sands pipeline heading east.

Every individual had their own opinions informed by their own experiences. I talked to people that supported the pipeline, people still making up their mind and many that were doing everything they could to oppose it.

It’s clear that Canadians and First Nations are giving thought to the complex issues of energy, environment and economy. We are smart people. Many of us aren’t buying the line pushed by tar sands industry and the federal government that ‘we need this pipeline for jobs and the economy.’

Most also recognize the climate implications of the mega-pipeline. Every person I spoke with, whether they agreed with the pipeline proposal or not, talked about the need for Canada to move towards more renewable energy.

This is a complex issue. And, sometimes it takes a personal story, a face, or an experience to drive home what this is all about.

Beginning this Friday, some of the images from Along the Pipeline will be on display in Toronto for the exhibit Exposing Energy East. The exhibit is free and open to the public, October 31 to November 5.

I invite you to come and see the faces of Canadians who live along Energy East’s proposed route. Hear their concerns about this project. I promise it will make you consider not only the issue of the pipeline, but also ask that bigger question – what kind of Canada do we want to build?

Creating Viral Images at the People’s Climate March

On September 21st I worked with Survival Media Agency to document the largest climate march in history, the Peoples Climate March. Our team was contracted by 350.org to document and capture this historical event. To cover this moment, Survival Media brought in 6 photographers and 2 editors.

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Considering all the attention on the event, over 400,000 people marching in the streets, and the thousands of groups that came out to support, it was clear that we had the potential to make some of those images go viral.

Crucial to that social media push was the first shot of the march, the one that showed what was happening in New York ‘right now’. To get that shot I was given access to a crane at the front of the march. Twenty minutes before the march started I rose up above Columbus Circle to capture the moment. What I witnessed was an incredible demonstration of people power. It was impossible to see the end of the crowd. It extended all the way up to 91St and beyond. Never before had this many people gathered in one spot to demand action on climate change. Here was the climate movement coming of age.

However, I didn’t get to take in the scene for long because in a few minutes my colleagues were asking me to get down so they could have my images.

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On the ground, Shadia Fayne Wood and Bunker Seyfert proceeded to edit the crucial image and send it to the waiting crew at the offices of 350.org.

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Six hours later, when I had finished documenting the march, I finally caught a glimpse of the image. It had been shared over 7,000 times! It takes a team; photographers, editors, graphic designers and a platform that will amplify your image. But, when it works, it is awesome.

Here is that image.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 1.11.16 PM

Along the Pipeline – Energy East Photography Project Published in Ricochet

Bob Smoker

I am very pleased to announce that Along the Pipeline, my photography portrait series on TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline has now been published in Ricochet. Ricochet is the new national online media outlet in Canada and I am very excited to partner with them for this publication. They have done an exceptional job of highlighting the 24 select images, the captions and audio files. Please visit their sites to see the stories.

Part One – Published last week
Part Two – Published this week

There is more exciting things coming from this project, including publishing in two different art magazines and gallery openings in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more.

Along the Pipeline Presentations

Energy East, along the pipeline and Naomi KleinRecently I had the pleasure of presenting the Along the Pipeline project on the stage in Montreal. I was honoured to share the stage on all occasions with some amazing individuals.

Last week I shared the stories of those along the pipeline at  Bill McKibben’s and Ellen Gabriel’s People’s Climate Tour event. Last night I was given the opportunity to piggy back on Naomi Klein’s new book launch, This Changes Everything, to bring these stories to a sold out Imperial Theatre in Montreal.

My thanks goes out to the all the participants and supporters of Along the Pipeline and to the organizers for fitting me into already packed schedules.