Adherents to the same Anabaptist tradition as the Amish and the Mennonites, the Hutterites of the Canadian and American West dress plainly and resist modern media such as television and the Internet. But on the farm they are aggressive adopters of advanced technology, ranging from geothermal energy to robot milking machines. The scale of Hutterite colonies often allows them to invest in equipment of which their neighbours can only dream.
Now, on both sides of the border, Hutterite colonies have become favoured electric-industry partners for wind farming, since they control large tracts of contiguous land but allow companies to deal with a single manager. In southern Alberta, three colonies in the wind corridor between Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass have allowed electricity producers to install more than 100 turbines, with a total capacity of over 140 megawatts, on their land.
Alberta is rebuilding its electrical grid to accommodate more wind power, and the Pincher Creek Colony is looking forward to an expansion of the Castle River facility it already hosts in exchange for about two per cent of the value of the electricity it produces. The deal doesn’t require the land to be left unproductive, says colony manager Mike Gross. “We seed right up to within a foot of the base of the turbines.”
The colony has about 120 people, so it’s approaching what Hutterites regard as its upper population limit. Within the next decade or so, it must split in two. “We’re hanging on to the free income from the turbines and we’ll use it to help build the new farm down the road,” says Gross, improvising a maxim you won’t find in any Bible: “If a colony can see a buck saved, they’ll go for it.”