Pioneer wind turbine on the auction block

Canada’s first major wind energy project peeks out of the clouds on Cowley Ridge in southern Alberta with the Livingstone range in the background. The turbines have been replaced with newer ones in recent years.  |  Joanne Elves photo

Power-generating wind turbines were a novelty in southern Alberta back in the 1990s. When a few of them popped up near Cowley, Alta., an area known for its frequent westerly winds, they were items of interest and landmarks to point out when driving by.

Now the southwestern corner of Alberta has hundreds of wind turbines contributing to the power-generation system. The early small turbines are dwarfed by monoliths that are 30 times their size.

One of those vanguard windmills has been put up for sale by owner Jeff Wearmouth of Optimist Wind Energy. Though small by modern turbine standards, it’s still bigger than a breadbox at 30 metres tall and a three-blade, 23.8 metre diameter blade circle.

It will be sold March 20 at a Ritchie Brothers auction in Lethbridge.

The turbine is of a design called the Bonus 150, so named for its 150-kilowatt capacity that has output at wind speeds from 14 to 90 km-h.

“It was certainly one of the original commercial turbines in all of Canada and it certainly was the biggest in Canada for a year or two,” said Wearmouth, who bought the unit in 2004 from the Johnson family, the original owners.

Many who watched the multiplication of wind turbines in the region can recall the first major wind project along Cowley Ridge, a rise between Cowley and Lundbreck, Alta., easily visible from Highway 3. Those turbines were of the 375 kW capacity — larger than Wearmouth’s Bonus 150 that stands within site of that ridge.

“This one is sort of at the bottom of the commercial sized turbines and it’s really a commercial platform,” he said.

“There’s quite a few of these actually running in other parts of the world. It was such a good commercial platform.”

Wearmouth said many of the smaller, independently owned and operated turbines in the region came into existence with the province’s small power producers program, which he believes was the first renewable energy program in Western Canada.

With sale of the Bonus 150, Wearmouth will no longer own turbines, although he continues to work in the wind-generation industry. Why sell his last unit?

“Good question, because it’s a good turbine. It runs good even though it’s obviously not very new. It’s just a good runner.”

With his business based in Calgary and his go-to maintenance person no longer available, Wearmouth said he found it tougher to service so it was time to sell.

“I enjoy it,” he said of the business.

“I still think it’s a great industry, but owning a turbine is no longer in the cards for us.”

Wearmouth declined to say how much he hopes to get at the sale. However, website searches show some used Bonus 150 models available for about US$20,000.

The turbine won’t be standing in the auction yard. It remains at its windy post near Cowley, and the new owner can decide on its future, Wearmouth said.

“The assumption is they would want to move it. If they want to continue to operate it where it is, subject to making some arrangements with the landowner and the turnover of the permits and stuff, that would be possible,” he said.

“It’s a fairly unique item, and I think even Ritchie Brothers was curious about how this will turn out. It will be an interesting one to watch.”

Given that the turbine forms part of Alberta history in wind generation, Wearmouth said potential purchasers might be intrigued for that reason.

“It really is almost a historic piece in the evolution of the wind industry in Canada, so I’d be just as happy if it went to another wind producer as if it went for some historical purpose.”

About wind energy

  • Alberta ranks third in Canada for installed wind energy capacity.
  • Today’s array of turbines has a maximum capacity of 1,483 megawatts.
  • There were 901 wind turbines in the province as of December 2018.
  • An estimated eight percent of Alberta’s total energy generation comes from wind.

Source: Canadian Wind Energy Association

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