Tech guy taps the Earth

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Leigh Bond champions green technology

Leigh Bond wanted to be a superhero when he grew up.

“I wanted to be Superman,” recalls the 63-year-old St. Albert businessman, although he doesn’t remember why. “Maybe it goes back to the whole concept of making a difference?”

Bond is the head of Threshold Energies Corp. — a renewable energy company that recently installed 64 solar hot water collectors at terminal four of the Edmonton International Airport. Those panels will provide about 70 per cent of the building’s hot water without burning any fossil fuels, he says.

“Let’s face it,” he says, in his characteristically blunt manner, “fossil fuels are finite.”

Renewable energy can and will replace fossil fuels and change the world in the process, he says, and he hopes to be a part of that change.

Tech-head

Bond has been interested in technology ever since he was a child, says his younger brother Jim, who grew up with him near Lloydminster.

“He was always a little hyper,” Jim says with a chuckle, and always wanted to know how stuff worked.

Bond built his own go-cart using a lawnmower engine, he recalls, and could dismantle and reassemble a car engine by age 16. He was also exceptionally driven, almost a perfectionist. When faced with the prospect of missing Grade 5 due to rheumatic fever he finished the whole grade by correspondence.

And he’s still that way, says Dave Mowles, who’s known Bond for about 30 years.

“He’s pretty serious in whatever he may want to do, whether it be camping or having a beer,” Mowles says. “He gets an idea … and he just pursues it.”

Young kids always want to change the world, Bond says, and he saw technology as one way to do it. After taking some courses in computers, he got a job as an inventory manager for the Robert Simpson Company in Toronto, circa 1972.

“Back in those days it was all done with punch cards,” he says, and he worked with massive computers in building-sized rooms.

Bond hopped back to Alberta after about half a year, taking jobs in accounting and computer sales.

“It was the advent of what they called the mini-computer,” he says — cubicle-sized master systems meant to run a whole business. “The first mini-computer I sold had 64K of memory, five megs of hard disk, eight screens and two printers.”

Bond struck out on his own in 1975 to found Amador Business Computers, a group that built industrial computer systems for companies like Canadian Tire (which still uses the group’s software).

“We grew at 40 per cent a year for 10 years in a row,” Bond says, and soon had clients across North America. By 2004, the company had become the second biggest supplier of auto parts inventory systems in Canada.

But success also meant constant cross-country travel, he adds.

“When you’re young, being in an airplane is kind of cool, but it gets tiring after awhile.”

He left the company in 2004.

Mowles says this history may be why Bond is the way he is today.

“When you start with nothing and you build it up to something, which he’s doing again with Threshold, I think you become a serious kind of guy,” Mowles said.

Green epiphany

Bond was looking to retire in 2004 and started investigating renewable energy for his own house. While taking a course from electrical engineer Gordon Howell, an expert in renewable energy, Bond became fascinated with geothermal energy and learned that the industry as a whole was in a very nascent state.

It was just like the computer industry had been like back in 1981, he says — everyone wanted renewable energy, but no one knew how to do it properly.

“You could not find trained staff,” he said.

He says he started Threshold Energies both to promote these new technologies and to train people in their use.

“I wasn’t an inventor,” he says, but he knew business. “I could make the most difference by deploying what already worked.”

He co-founded the Alberta Geothermal Energy Association to promote geothermal energy, and helped design renewable energy courses for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He’s now working on a geothermal drilling apprenticeship program for Red Deer College.

“We hope that by next September we’ll be accepting our first students,” he says.

Bond says he hopes to retire in about two years, and is thinking about teaching at NAIT.

He says he no longer wants to be Superman, but still hopes to be remembered for making a difference in people’s lives.

“I think that I did.”

Leigh Bond, St. Albert

What is your greatest accomplishment?

“I’ve raised two kids that both have university degrees and are great people … Not many people can say they have a mechanical engineer [for a son]and a daughter who’s a master in archaeology.”

What are your hobbies?

“Scuba diving … I’m a lousy swimmer,” he says, but that’s not a problem with scuba. “It’s another whole world … and yet it’s our world.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.