Canada wind farms blow away turbine tourists

In Alberta, TransAlta offers iPod audio tours

Kathryn Young, CanWest News Service

Published: Wednesday, October 03 2007

So many drivers are gawking at the enormous wind turbines along Lake Erie that they're creating a safety hazard, while in Alberta, TransAlta Corp. responded to visitor demand by creating an iPod audio tour for people keen to learn more about its three wind farms.

Wind farms have surprisingly become tourist attractions across Canada, luring thousands of visitors -- some from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Europe -- curious about the electricity-generating turbines.

Local municipalities are responding by constructing viewing areas, opening interpretive centres, printing maps, welcoming tour buses and selling T-shirts, ball caps, windmill models, pins, aprons, photographs and postcards.

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"Four out of five visitors to the area inquire about our wind farms, which was a tremendous surprise to us," said Michael Lawrence, spokesman for TransAlta Corp., which runs two wind farms near Pincher Creek and one near Fort Macleod. Tourists can download the audio tour from TransAlta's website. And when its New Brunswick wind farm opens in late 2008, the company will provide interpretive signs for tourists to explain how the 32 turbines work.

Meanwhile, Linda D'Hondt-Crandon, economic development co-ordinator for Norfolk County, Ont., has been given the go-ahead to find sponsors and negotiate a property lease to build a viewing area where people can safely observe some of the 66 turbines of the Erie Shores Wind Farm.

"Part of this is for safety reasons," she said. "There's not a lot of shoulder area on the road. People are driving along looking at the windmills and they're not paying attention to the road and they stop and get out and take pictures."

In Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, interpretive centres offer videos, computers with technical information, games, crafts for kids and souvenirs.

"If you want to learn about the windmills, you come here," said Pauline Johnson, who works in the North Cape Gift Shop and Interpretive Centre. Located near Tignish, P.E.I., the North Cape Wind Farm attracts up to 60,000 visitors a year, according to its website.

Manitoba's St. Leon Interpretive Centre attracted a more modest 2,300 visitors last year, many of whom took Janine Caillier's tour, which included a PowerPoint presentation and walk up to a turbine base.

"They're amazed by the structure of the tower," Caillier said. " 'They're fascinating.' That's basically what I hear every day. Their eyes grow bigger every time you give a fact about the turbine."

St. Leon's 63 turbines are 80 metres high -- the height of a 21-storey building.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association has not conducted any studies about the tourist appeal of its approximately 80 wind farms, said association president Robert Hornung. Canada currently generates about 1,588 megawatts of electricity through wind -- enough to power 480,000 homes.

The association's goal is to increase installed wind-energy capacity to 10,000 megawatts by 2010.

"I think people are definitely interested in the renewables, especially wind power," said Lawrence. "It's something you can see, it's easy to grasp visually, whereas with some of the other renewables -- like geothermal, solar -- it's not that visually stunning."


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