Keir, citing New Brunswick's robust energy regime, its position as a regional energy hub within the North American north-east region, and the potential for boosting transmission links, earlier this year drew attention to the study's initial findings that New Brunswick could build between 2500 MW and 4500 MW of wind capacity by 2025. All of the capacity "is deemed economic" by the authors of the study, Danish consultancy and research firm EA Energianalyse. The study is due for public release this autumn.
For New Brunswick, with a population of about 750,000 and total electric generating capacity that is just shy of 4000 MW, the numbers are huge. The province is only now getting its first wind power project, Calgary-based TransAlta Wind's 96 MW Kent Hills facility, which is scheduled to come on line before the end of 2008. Adding large quantities of wind energy, admitted Keir, is going to require further evaluation, detailed planning, regional cooperation and significant investments in transmission to get the power to market.
But it is a challenge he is demonstrating he is prepared to embrace. Keir has asked government-owned New Brunswick Power to review its long term renewable energy strategy and look for ways to add significant levels of new wind energy and biomass. He has also instructed the New Brunswick system operator to move forward at an accelerated pace with planning efforts for additional regional transmission capacity. "We must fully align our systems planning and design efforts with our friends and neighbours," he said earlier this year, referring in particular to the US state of Maine and the independent system operator for the New England region.
New Brunswick, which lies on the international border with Maine, sees wind power as an important part of its energy export portfolio. The province is also the gateway through which power from the provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island must flow to access other markets. "We sit on top of the largest demand market in North America. It is huge, and guess what? They are crying for green renewable energy," said Keir earlier this year. "I think there is a window of opportunity here we have to get out in front of, that all of Atlantic Canada has to get out in front of."
It is an idea that is gaining currency in a region blessed with exceptional wind resources, but limited by its relatively small electricity loads. Prince Edward Island released an innovation strategy this year targeting installation of 500 MW of wind power by 2013, more than twice the province's current peak load.
Also this year, the parent company of Nova Scotia Power teamed up with one of the largest utility companies in the US Northeast in order to study the feasibility of a high-voltage transmission line running from the Maritime Provinces and northern Maine to supply energy to the southern New England market (see map previous page).
In total, Keir reports there are an estimated 6000 MW of wind projects currently in the system queues in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Economic analyses being conducted as part of New Brunswick's ambition to become a regional energy hub, he added, show that tapping into that potential can bring strong cost, trade and environmental benefits for jurisdictions on both sides of the border. "We can all be winners if we shape a truly regional approach to developing energy markets and connecting new renewable or green energy sources to emerging east coast markets."
Yves Gagnon, who chairs sustainable development work at New Brunswick's University of Moncton, floated the idea of a Maritimes green power pool for the three provinces a few years ago as a way to remove jurisdictional barriers in electric system management and add more wind generation than each province could manage on its own. "It started slowly, but the more we are advancing in time the more we are starting to hear about the importance of getting together on a regional basis to manage the grid using an integrated approach to minimise costs and to better be able to integrate renewable energy," says Gagnon. "There is a willingness to discuss and negotiate, and that is the first step to arriving at solutions."
Gagnon says the government sees the energy hub concept as a lever for economic development in a province that has traditionally relied on the fisheries and forestry sectors, both of which had seen significant decline in recent years. The idea initially focussed on traditional energy resources, with talk of a second oil refinery near Irving Oil's existing facility in Saint John, plans for a liquefied natural gas receiving and regasification terminal, and a proposal for a second reactor at the Point Lepreau nuclear generating facility. It has since broadened out to include renewables, particularly wind, both at utility scale and on a much smaller, community-based level. New Brunswick, says Gagnon, certainly has the resource.
"Our work has shown we have roughly 43,000 MW of technical potential. Obviously we will never develop that much, but what it shows is that the wind resource is significant." Much of it, he adds, is located in areas that are sparsely populated but where there is still road and transmission access. He believes momentum for wind power will continue to build over the next few years, especially as the United States starts to come to terms with climate change issues and as the north-east states, with much higher population densities than their Canadian neighbours, look for new sources of clean power.
"I am highly optimistic that New Brunswick will become a major generator of electricity from wind energy. The resource is exceptional, highly distributed and accessible and there are huge markets right next door to us in the New England states. And eventually, as the aging assets of NB Power reach their end of life, there is going to be a need for renewable energy internally also. The current government is, from what I know, committed to developing the energy hub in all sectors and in all regions of the province. And technically, a large amount of wind-generated electricity can be integrated on our transmission lines. So essentially all the building blocks are there," he says.
"Right now it is a big puzzle. The province, not only the government but also the business sector and the population, need to get all the pieces together and develop a clear picture of how this could be developed."