Canada's cutting-edge energy model
December 21, 2006 Christian Science Monitor
ELMIRA, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND – If you want a glimpse
of this province's energy future, drive the winding
country roads to its eastern tip, take a left at
the sign for the village of Elmira, and follow the
red dirt track to the right.
Ten wind turbines stand along the trail, each 26
stories tall, with blades as long as 125 feet. When
workers finish the last one this month, the new
Eastern Kings Wind Farm will generate 30 megawatts
of electricity - 7.5 percent of the province's power
- by harnessing the strong winds that buffet the
island's northern shore.
But more than an isolated project, the wind farm
is part of an ambitious plan to enable Prince Edward
Island (PEI) - which has no significant coal, petroleum,
natural gas, or hydro resources - to meet most of
its electricity and 30 percent of its total energy
needs from its own renewable resources by 2016.
If successful, government officials say, this remote
rural province will find itself at the cutting edge
of the world's fastest growing energy sector.
"Right now we have to bring almost all of our energy
in from off-island at great expense" - $440 million
a year (US$384 million and 11 percent of GDP), says
Jamie Ballem, minister of environment and energy.
"If we can produce a third of that right here from
renewable sources that's going to help the local
economy and the environment.
" In addition to the Eastern Kings project, PEI's
government is backing the creation of a hydrogen-powered
village as well as expansions to existing wind farms
on the northwestern tip of the island. Private companies,
meanwhile, are building plants to produce ethanol
from locally grown sugar beets and residential heat
from forestry and farming waste. Hydrogen-powered
buses and boats may follow, whisking passengers
around the island with fuel cells charged by wind-power.
A province known for lobster, potatoes, and low-key
vacations, PEI may seem an unlikely venue for an
energy revolution. It's a tiny place, an island
the size of Delaware, with fewer people than Arlington,
Va., or Eugene, Ore.
But PEI's small size is exactly what makes it appealing
for the emerging renewable-energy industry to conduct
pilot projects, says Mr. Ballem. "If you're developing
a new technology, we're able to provide something
nobody else can: a self-contained province where,
with two days notice, I can get you a meeting with
the premier or the head of the university," he says.
"We're small enough to be affordable and big enough
to be commercial."
Energy policy analyst Scott Sklar of the Stella
Group in Washington agrees. "Clean energy industries
are expanding at about 30 percent a year, and they're
looking for places to put down investments.... In
PEI, they've got an excellent renewable resource
base, a small population, and a great willingness
to move boldly. There's no doubt that that all plays
in their favor."
The electricity-generating potential of the island's
greatest energy resource - the wind - was recognized
decades ago, and in 1980 Canada built its national
wind test center on the island's northwestern tip.
When the provincial government adopted its renewable
energy strategy in 2004, expanding wind power was
the first priority.
Two years later, three new wind farms are nearing
completion - two built by a private firm, the other
by the public utility, PEI Energy Corp. When completed
in the coming months, wind will provide 15 percent
of PEI's electricity, reducing the province's carbon
dioxide emissions by 90,000 tons each year. The
island's overall wind potential is about five times
that, according to the government.
The government is working on a range of incentives
for a range of potential wind farm owners including
guaranteed purchase prices for excess electricity
fed back to the electricity grid by small farms
owned by cooperatives, farmers, and small businessmen.
To convert some of that wind to other uses, PEI
Energy Corp. and Ontario's Hydrogenics Corp. are
overseeing the creation of a $10.3 million "wind-hydrogen
village" at North Cape. The project, to be completed
in 2008, will use energy from turbines of the Canadian
wind test site to split hydrogen from water, store
it in special tanks, and use it to power fuel cells.
When the wind isn't blowing, the fuel cells will
be used to power area buildings, eventually to include
the entire hamlet of Sea Cow Pond. Ultimately three
hydrogen fueling stations are expected to be built
- located to allow full island-wide coverage - serving
three hydrogen-powered busses, a cargo truck, and
an excursion boat.
"Hydrogen is a wonderful means of capturing natural
energy sources and storing them for use in other
applications," says Harvey Silverstein, a Halifax-based
hydrogen economy consultant who was an advisor for
the project. "You can produce a fuel that's 100
percent pollution free."
It is, however, a demonstration project, and the
fuel cells will have little impact in terms of meeting
PEI's 2016 energy target, particularly in regards
to transportation, which accounts for about 40 percent
of the island's energy consumption. Petroleum will
clearly remain the primary fuel source for most
vehicles, but Ballem hopes to supplement it with
ethanol made from local sugar beets at a $2 million
plant now being built by a local company. (Automobiles
can burn gas mixtures containing 10 percent ethanol
Other plans include the construction of a biomass
plant that will burn wood wastes from provincial
forests, and treating used cooking oil and other
waste fats so they can be used to power diesel-engine
"If they can make this strategy work, it will
create a good blueprint for other places and countries
to look at," says Jeff Deyette, an energy analyst
with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge,
"It's the kind of leadership that's needed both
here in the US and in Canada to move clean energy