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Skip big school turbine for more smaller ones, prof urges CBE

CALGARY – A wind power expert says the city’s public school board should abandon plans for a 43-metre-tall turbine in favour of smaller-scale projects, if its primary goal is educating students about renewable energy.

For the $290,000 it will cost to install the tower and generator at a school in the city’s southeast, mechanical engineering professor David Wood says the Calgary Board of Education could install a dozen demonstration units, similar to the one erected at Olympic Heights School two years ago.

“I would go for the smaller ones because you’re less likely to upset the neighbours,” Wood said.

“You achieve the purpose of educating students independent of the size of the turbine.”

Officials with the CBE say the wind turbine they want to install in the southeast neighbourhood is part of $15.5 million in upgrades at 35 schools that will be offset by energy savings over the next 20 years.

Based on a price of 13 cents a kilowatt hour, the board estimates the 50 kW generator they plan to install atop a giant tower will save them $13,000 a year on their electricity bill.

Wood, who holds the NSERC-Enmax industrial research chair in renewable energy at the University of Calgary, is studying ways to exploit wind energy in cities. He said he’s doubtful the CBE’s proposed turbine will ever turn a profit.

“With the small and medium scale of turbines and with the current regime of electricity prices in Alberta, you’re never going to get your money back,” he said.

Wind maps estimate the average annual wind speed at the proposed site is about 4.5 metres per second, considerably less than the seven metres per second that studies have shown is needed to make wind energy pay on a large scale.

Wood was also doubtful that the location the CBE has selected is a good one, especially since they haven’t installed a test mast at the site to measure wind velocities.

“There’s been a significant amount of disappointed customers because the turbines have been put in an area that don’t have the wind resource people expected,” he said.

In September, Wood installed a 50-metre mast at the University of Calgary’s Spy Hill campus, to test the wind velocity. He’s already identified the areas north and south of the Alberta Children’s Hospital as possible locations for small turbines because they’re away from built-up areas and have unobstructed exposure to the north and west winds.

He said Nose Hill Park in the city’s northwest might also be a promising location for turbines.

“It might please a minority of Calgarians like myself who are keen on wind power, but not necessarily the majority,” he said.