June 18th, 2021

Turbine topples, as does company’s relationship with college

By COLLIN GALLANT on June 2, 2020.

Turbines near the Medicine Hat Cultural Centre were damaged in strong gusty winds on Sunday night. The company that is testing the prototypes says the axles were locked at the time and without the ability to accept the wind and spin, the force tipped over one turbine.--NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT


The designer of an experimental wind turbine located near Medicine Hat College says an operational decision to lock them from spinning led to one shearing off in high wind on Sunday night.

As well, the working relationship between the college and company appears to have ended.

One of the distinctive blue, helical turbines laid on its side on Monday morning, separated from its base, while another was being girded by a forklift.

Joel Goldblatt, head of Bluenergy SolarWind, told the News on Monday morning that the prototype vertical turbine is meant to be free spinning, and is designed to handle “hurricane strength” winds.

However, aside from “limited testing” over the course of the last year, the college has ordered them to be stationary, said Goldblatt, and gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour in a wind storm on Sunday caused the damage.

“It’s not a judgment on the turbine – they are designed to be free-spinning,” said Goldblatt. “They need to be in a facility where they can spin 24 hours a day.”

He said the next step is to have local contractors clean up the damage and begin moving the equipment to a separate facility.

That location is not being released, but it spells an official end to the relationship between Bluenergy and the College, which did not provide a comment to the News for this report.

The highly visible turbines are built on college property as part of a “renewable energy micro-grid” project that was launched in 2017.

They can be seen from the Trans-Canada Highway, and have been the subject of speculation and some skepticism since they were installed early last year.

The upright, corkscrew-style turbine is covered with photovoltaic cells and is billed to provide a more constant power supply for commercial, institutional and larger residential facilities.

While they have been mostly stationary, there has been limited testing, which Goldblatt described as “encouraging.” He said that since grant funding ended for the project, officials with the college required the turbines to be locked in place.

The company is now working to remove the panels and with another, unnamed funding partner will relocate them.

That will be likely out of the city and essentially end a working partnership between the firm and college which was announced in 2017.

The turbine section, estimated to weigh 800 pounds, fell from the base to the ground (about six feet) and stayed within a cordoned off fenced area around the bases – a state of affairs that Goldblatt said proves its engineered safety plan.

“It basically dropped,” said Goldblatt.

The company came to the city and college via talks with former company consultant Robert Nicolay and joined in a three-way working relationship wherein the city offered its utility administrators to independently audit the results of the testing, and the college offered the land.

In late 2018 that effort was folded into a college initiative to create a micro-grid facility where other companies could test equipment and students studying construction, energy and data analysis could have a working lab.

The project, which also includes a solar canopy array and fast charging, was partially funded initially by a $526,000 grant from the federal ministry of Western Diversification and a $256,000 grant from Alberta Labour.

City officials say there is no financial stake in the company. Nicolay resigned from the company when he was hired by city council to become city hall’s chief administrator.

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