By Rick Butler
Pics by Rick Butler
Our gaze was met by hundreds of tall white behemoths blowing in the wind as we drove east on highway #3 in south western Alberta, just west of Pincher Creek. These huge Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines were transforming the power of wind into electricity right before our very eyes. “Where is the entrance road to get a closer look?” I excitedly asked my trustworthy navigator, Irene. Knowing she wouldn’t let me down, she led Emili and me down a gravel side-road to the foot of Cowley Ridge Wind Farm.
Cowley Ridge was chosen for the site of this large wind farm, consisting of 57 Turbines and generating 21.4 megawatts of electricity, due to the fact that power production is optimized by Chinook winds blasting down the eastern slopes of the Rockies and accelerating over the ridge, plus the orientation of the ridge is at right angles to the prevailing winds turning the giant rotors. In total Canadian Hydro Developers own 77 Wind Turbines in the area producing 47 megawatts of power, enough to provide the electrical needs of 18,800 households.
The power generated from these wind plants enters Alberta’s electrical grid. Home owners and local businesses can request “Green Energy” and acquire their electricity from the wind farm; however, they are charged more for this service. This is an irony, as the environmental cost of producing electricity from polluting, fossil fuel generating plants, for example, is not added to the cost of the electricity, therefore you pay more for an environmentally friendly, zero emissions, low impact, sustainable form of energy. Hopefully Mr. Martin will re-instate the 1.2 cents (or more) per kwh rebate for wind energy as he promised during his election campaign.
The Nordex Turbine, in use at Cowley North, has a rotor diameter of 60 metres, can operate in wind speeds up to 90 kilometres per hour and can generate enough electricity in 35 minutes to power a typical home for a month. These are not the biggest around though, at Summerview, located northeast of Pincher Creek, the turbines have a rotor diameter of 80 m (262 ft) and the towers are 65 m (213 ft) high each producing 1.8 megawatts of power. Also in the area, we found 3 Vertical Axis Wind Turbines, in test mode by Tallon Energy. They caught my eye as these are the very big brother to the one that Rick West is developing in Kelowna.
Impressed by Cowley, we were even more anxious to be on our way to witness the biggest wind farm in Canada at McBride Lake. As we approached Fort Macleod at the junction of Highways #3 and #2, Irene and I had a discussion on whether we turn right to the UNESCO site of “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (her choice) or turn left to McBride Lake Wind Farm (my choice).
After spending a very informative and enjoyable time at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, we headed south a little ways to the site of 114 Horizontal Axis Vestas, 660 kw Wind Turbines. These guys churn out 75 megawatts of power producing 235,000 mwh a year, enough for 32,500 homes. This wind plant is a joint venture between Vision Quest and Enmax. Construction began in the Fall of 2002 and was completed in Summer 2003. The Vestas 660 has 3 rotors with a diameter of 47 m (154 ft). The tower is 50 m (165 ft) high and weighs 24,000 kg. They are huge and are lined up as if in military formation row on row spinning in all their glory. The Wind Turbines at McBride Lake co-exist with the local farming community. The space used by the turbines is less than 2% of the total farmland in the area so disruption to the farmers is minimal. Production of energy generated by wind power at this facility reduces annual emissions by 235,000 tonnes of CO2. Vision Quest and Enmax estimates that over the life of this project, $20 million will be injected into the local economy. Seems like a win for every one.
In total, there are 261 Wind Turbines (more being added regularly) producing almost 170 megawatts of power in Alberta, supplying about 1% of the province’s demands. This is just the beginning.
The answer to building a sustainable future with low impact renewable energy is, “Blowing in the Wind”.