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Alberta windmills draw wind - and visitors

By Sue Dritmanis
  The Canadian prairie, long associated with grain elevators and railway lines, is welcoming a new icon, the wind turbine. These futuristic windmills, sparkling white steel towers that stand 40 m (130 ft) high, are popping up all over the landscape. And they're not just generating energy - they're attracting tourists by the thousands.

     Alberta's newest and largest wind farm in Taber, south of Calgary, officially started whirring in October 2007. It's home to 37 of these triple-bladed giants. Developed by Enmax, a subsidiary of the city of Calgary, the farm is expected to supply 75% of the city's electrical needs - the largest commitment to using green power by any municipality in North America. Another Alberta company, Vision Quest, jumped on the wind wagon some 10 years ago by installing three commercial wind farms near Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod.
     These turbines are a mighty impressive sight, especially in a stiff breeze with their huge arms spinning. They make surprisingly little noise, are installed right in the middle of a farmer's field or rancher's pasture and even offer a bit of shade and shelter to highly accepting sheep and cattle. (The smooth-sided towers discourage nesting and the turbines have slow rotation speeds, reducing risk to birds and bats. The company says impact on birds and bats is low compared to other human-related activities - transmission lines, urban development, vehicles.)
     Curious humans, however, demand to know more. "Four out of five visitors inquire about our wind farms, which has been a tremendous surprise to us," says Michael Lawrence, spokesman for TransAlta, which purchased Vision Quest in 2000.
     In response, the company has created an iPod audio tour called "Journey Into The Wind." The 11 tracks include driving directions, descriptions of local landmarks (don't miss the historic Lebel Mansion in Pincher Creek), storytelling by Peigan tribe elder Wilford Yellow Wings Sr., and lots of easily digested facts about wind turbines, how they're built and how sites are chosen.
     The projects have injected an estimated $10 million into the local economy in the past decade, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association. As Pincher Creek's 3,600 residents like to say, the economic benefits of wind farms have blown them away.

Sue Dritmanis is a Vancouver, BC-based writer, editor and publishing consultant. She is the former managing editor of Western Living and Travel Etc. magazines, and teaches communications and magazine publishing at Capilano College. Dritmanis' work has appeared in Canadian Living, Where Vancouver and BC Business, among many other titles. Click for Calgary, Alberta Forecast

Photo Credit & Article:
courtesy, Canadian Tourism Commission

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