GUELPH — Max Woschnigg’s wind turbine was supposed to be a 40-metre sign of the future: a green effort on a local level aimed at saving energy and preserving the environment.
Politicians lauded it. Greenies loved it. Thankful local Grade 7 students once ate barbecue under it – during a field trip visit to pay homage to this green energy pioneer.
But almost four years after the $160,000, 80-kilowatt wind turbine started supplying all the energy needs on Woschnigg’s small farm on Highway 124, just west of Guelph, his view has soured.
“I tell people to stay away from wind turbines. Stay away as far as you can,” Woschnigg said, adding that his wind turbine was “nothing but trouble.”
“I closed it down. Two years ago I shut it down,” Woschnigg said. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it.”
Woschnigg’s issues with the turbine are apparently twofold: He has an ongoing dispute with Hydro One regarding his electricity bill that he said increased after his turbine started running. He is also mired in a legal dispute with the firm he bought the turbine from in 2006; it revolves around servicing the structure.
“Sure, I could turn it on if I wanted to. But why would I?” said Woschnigg, who came to Canada in 1952 from Austria, and over the next 35 years built up a home construction business.
Woschnigg said Hydro One is after almost $4,500 in unpaid hydro bills, money he says he can’t possibly owe them, given how much energy the turbine produced when it was running.
“It’s a long story,” he said of his Hydro One dispute. At his home, thick files of paperwork on the Hydro One flap speak to its complexity and duration.
Hydro One media relations representative Daniele Gauvin said the utility is forbidden from discussing a customer’s situation without their permission and asserted Woschnigg hasn’t provided such consent.
Woschnigg said Hydro One has never sought such permission.
John Hogg, of Freebreeze Energy Solutions, which sold Woschnigg his turbine, declined comment on the farmer’s dealings with the company, other than to say it has resulted in unresolved litigation arising from service bills.
Hogg said his company has installed several wind turbines similar to Woschnigg’s that are running just fine.
One belongs to Peter De Lange, a Belwood-area hog farmer, who installed his five years ago.
De Lange remains pleased with his unit — a medium-sized windmill, like Woschnigg’s.
“We had some trouble in the beginning, but the company backed it all up,” De Lange said.
De Lange said the windmill will take longer than expected to pay for itself (20 years instead of 14 years), but other than that he has been happy with it.
“The payback period is going to be a little longer, but we are not in control of the wind. Still, it’s an excellent source of green electricity,” De Lange said.
“It’s not the cheapest electricity. You still need a backup. But wind is given to us by the grace of God and we can use it without doing any damage to anybody and we can generate power that we can use. What better deal do you want?”
Woschnigg, who previously had a dispute with the provincial government regarding an increased property assessment because of the wind turbine, isn’t alone in his disillusionment with personal windmills.
Sean Whittaker, of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said there are between 100 and 150 wind turbines like Woschnigg’s in Canada.
“Right now, there are not a lot of what we call the mid-size systems,” Whittaker said, “but there’s certainly a lot of interest in those systems.”
Whittaker said the key is to do your homework before buying in.
“We have some great success stories, but it’s very important that people do their homework. Not only on the technology, but also in placing them.”
“This is a significant investment,” Whittaker said. “They are machines that require maintenance and proper follow-up. That’s all part of doing your homework. But if you do your homework well, they can be fantastic.”
Woschnigg said he plans on leaving the wind turbine erect, but powerless, on his property.
He said it would work if he turned it on, but he’s just too disenchanted.
“What do you want to do with it? Put a stick of dynamite in it? It’s a flagpole. A really big flagpole.