Series of megawatt turbine installations -- Canada catches big scale trend

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The second of eight Vestas 1.8 MW wind turbines planned for four separate projects in Canada has gone up in southern Alberta. The prototype V80 is one of the largest turbines in North America -- and the manufacturer hopes it will also be one of the most productive. "This is an excellent test site for the V80 and it will produce a phenomenal amount of electricity," says Philipp Andres of Vestas. "That's the reason we want to put it there. We want to test it in a very aggressive wind resource, like Alberta."

The 1.8 MW Vestas V80, designed specifically for the North American market, is a 60-hertz version of the company's 2 MW 50-hertz turbine, which has already proven itself in Europe. The North American machine does not have the same variable speed capability as the European model. Although Vestas will not comment, the difference can be explained by a patent, now held by GE Wind Energy, restricting the import of aspects of this technology to the US. The Alberta machine is owned by Calgary's Vision Quest Windelectric.

The first of the string of eight planned Canadian installations, erected last summer on the shores of Lake Ontario, is owned by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and is located next to its Pickering nuclear power station. In May, OPG and British Energy (Canada) Ltd announced plans to buy five more of the units for its Huron Wind project (Windpower Monthly, April 2001). Vestas will install and commission the turbines starting in September, with the project scheduled to be operational by the end of the year. Canada's eighth V80 will be installed by Sky Generation, an industry newcomer, on the Bruce Peninsula near Lake Huron in southern Ontario.

Vision Quest already owns and operates 67 other Vestas turbines in southern Alberta, all rated at 600 kW or 660 kW. One, says executive director Jason Edworthy, holds a world record for the electrical output of a 600 kW machine. He believes the stand-alone V80, with an 80 metre rotor diameter and 67 metre tower, sited on flat prairie, will "probably be North America's single largest producer of wind generated electricity."

Vestas persuasive

"We're a pretty conservative company and wouldn't usually buy an early machine, but there's a bit of a collaboration going on with the manufacturer, and they can be very persuasive," says Edworthy. "We want to know if there really are economies of scale in this wind regime. Obviously it's a well proven approach in Europe, but does it make sense here?"

Details of the arrangement between Vision Quest and Vestas have not been made public, but no doubt the manufacturer softened the economic blow of installing a single V80. Edworthy says a railroad siding and special truck were hired for delivery and one of the largest cranes in the province was needed to lift the 34 tonne rotor and 61 tonne nacelle into place. In general, though, says Andres, the added specialised installation costs are not a problem "if you have a large enough project." With regard to operation, Andres enthusiastically lists the benefits of the larger machine. "You have fewer foundations and access roads to build," he says. "You have less cabling in the ground and higher energy density per hectare of land when you use a larger turbine. You also have fewer machines to maintain. Those are the key advantages."

Andres says the trend to larger machines is also underway in the US, where Vestas has already installed 1.65 MW turbines in Texas and New York State. A V80 prototype will also be erected in Minnesota this spring and Andres anticipates more of the 1.8 MW turbines will be installed in both Canada and the US by the end of the year.

"Our competitors are all installing larger turbines right now," says Andres. "That's the way the market is going. Vestas intends to build a production plant in Portland, Oregon, where the large turbines will be built as well. The market definitely is gravitating towards the larger machines."

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