By Collin Gallant on January 25, 2017.
The City of Medicine Hat’s former chief commissioner is back with a new idea.
Bob Nicolay is at the centre of a new renewable energy development partnership between his company, Bluenergy Canada, Medicine Hat College and the City, which he headed as chief commissioner until 1999.
The agreement, to erect an array of four solar-panel-bladed wind turbines at the college with the city’s utility department oversight was announced Monday.
Nicolay told the News the combination of the city’s open-for-business attitude and standing as a publicly-owned generation and distribution company, made the decision on location for the pilot project easy.
“I was always watching over my shoulder to see what was happening in Canada,” said Nicolay, who was previously based in Houston when initial location scouting focused on Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana.
“All biases aside, the new (federal and provincial) governments wanted to bite down and take action on renewable energy … I said let’s go look at what’s happening north of the border.”
Nicolay, also a former president of Enmax utilities and now chief operating officer at BSW Canada, has now set up headquarters in Medicine Hat.
That partnership was announced on Monday night to coincide with the one-year report of Invest Medicine Hat, the contracted economic development provider for the city.
Though Nicolay has history in Medicine Hat, he credits Invest and general manager Ryan Jackson for facilitating two days of meetings last fall with the parties.
Eventually Medicine Hat will also be the top candidate for possible future manufacturing and servicing for Alberta, Saskatchewan and the B.C. interior, he said.
“When a community responds like that, it’s got to be a two-way street,” he said.
The project will take nine months to a year to set in place with testing and further certification to follow.
The city doesn’t have any financial interest in the project, though the utility department would evaluate some aspects of the project and then, depending on the results, attest to performance.
Mayor Ted Clugston said in a release the project would “further cement Medicine Hat’s reputation as a provincial and national renewable energy innovation leader.”
As for the college, business development officer Tracy Stroud told the News that the institution had been interested in creating a renewable energy lab unit for electrical and plumbing students.
Now the partnership will provide hands-on experience for students, energy for its own use and the possibility of more collaboration.
“It’s a starting point and we do see opportunities that go along with this,” said Stroud.
Jackson told council that as renewable energy projects come on line in the region, Medicine Hat is positing itself as the staging centre for construction and also the ongoing service centre.
With available workforce of engineers, fabricators and electricians “Medicine Hat is a natural location for this type of energy innovation,” he said.
A spiral, upright turbine with blades covered with solar panels, are a response to several lingering doubts in the public about green energy, said Nicolay.
Each turbine can produce 35 kilowatts of electricity â€” enough to power a large home or small business â€” and stands about 18 feet tall with a relatively small 60-sq.-ft. base.
The size and look makes them suitable for urban use, said Nicolay, while a helix design reduces noise or hum or dangers to birds and wildlife.
Those are popular worries when large wind farms are proposed, as are lingering questions about consistent supply, he said.
Combined with a solar heat recovery system, it is marketed as a consistent producer of energy as wind can produce overnight (starting at six kilometres per hour) and solar provides energy on calm daylight hours.
“It will demonstrate the versatility and reliability of a micro grid incorporating one than one renewable technology,” said Nicolay. “It’s about proving out a new technology.”
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