Wind is an intriguing power source that hasn't lived up to its potential. Too unpredictable. Too much fear of noise, flicker and bird corpses.
But a study published in Nature on September 9 indicates that, globally, near-surface winds could give us 20 times our current energy demand, with an environmental impact infinitesimally smaller than our present energy footprint.
It's politics and economics that are holding us back, not geophysical limitations.
In other words, more wind power is physically possible. It's just a matter of will.
Consider Summerside, PEI, which is poised to be more wind-powered than any other municipality in the industrial world. It's the only place on the Island with an independent electrical utility.
Nova Scotia has six, but Halifax ain't one.
For decades, the Summerside utility bought its electric from New Brunswick Power. But in 2009, it cobbled together $28 million---federal, provincial, municipal and private funds---to buy and install four Danish-manufactured three-megawatt wind turbines, enough to supply a quarter of the energy for the city of 15,000. It's Canada's first municipally-owned wind farm.
Including the wind energy it buys from a private wind farm, Summerside generates half its energy from wind, and the utility expects that percentage to go up.
The little wind farm gives the city $2 million in annual revenue over 25 years, which has allowed the city to keep its tax rate steady and waive electricity fees for lighting its sports fields. Without the added revenue, the city would be in dire straits, the deputy mayor said when its budget was released in March.
Greg Gaudet, Summerside's director of municipal services, believes Halifax can garner the same benefits. With one key difference: no municipally-owned utility. "In Nova Scotia you would have more bureaucracy to get through," Gaudet says. But he doesn't see why Halifax shouldn't invest in wind.
Richard MacLellan, eco-boss at Halifax Regional Municipality, says it's more complicated here. "We would have had to respond to a Nova Scotia Power request for proposals for wind, and compete against private wind developers," he says. "I can't conceive that relationship, or a policy that would take us there, based on the current rules in the province." He adds that HRM is watching Halifax Water, which has put in project applications for two large turbines. He also notes that city staff recommended against a recent proposal to be a 25 percent investor in a direct energy project, because "the ask was for the municipality to ... subsidize an acceptable return for Emera and Heritage."
Ultimately, MacLellan feels that the province has been effective in achieving its renewable targets.
Many renewable advocates would disagree. Regardless, as the government authority people say they trust most in polls, it would make sense for municipalities to play a greater role in developing wind power, rather than merely creating turbine bylaws.
When people perceive wind turbines as top-down development from big business and big government, they fight them. Hence wind's success in Summerside, where it's local and the benefit is obvious.
Although, as with most wind projects, there was some initial resistance.
"The first year we had 11 complaints of noise and shadow flicker," Gaudet says. "We made adjustments and there were zero complaints the second year."
The wind power has also resulted in lower electricity rates, because the windmills tend to generate a surplus at night. So the city offers a discounted rate during off-peak hours, which saves consumers money and further decreases fossil-fuel-based electricity imports. Summerside is piloting thermal ceramic storage units, which gather heat during the night---at the discounted rate---to heat the house during the day. Now obviously, HRM uses far more energy than Summerside. We have 26 times the population and nearly 200 times the area. Generating enough wind for half of our energy use is a major undertaking, with or without our own utility.
First, somebody would have to set the target. Then the province would have to work with HRM to get there.
With Summerside at 50 percent wind power, it's a model we should look at.