Quebec has launched a public debate on a new energy policy. The debate will run in three phases: an information phase, a consultation phase and a white paper phase. The procedure will be supervised to secure neutrality and public access. Wind is noted to be the renewable energy source most ready for development. Briefs should be handed in in advance from people or groups who want to participate.

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In a move that could lead to a major boost for wind power in Canada, Quebec launched an extensive public provincial debate on a new energy policy in February. Natural Resources Minister Francois Gendron said that four themes will dominate the discussion: energy options (including electricity production methods, opportunities for energy efficiency, and the heating and transportation markets), the regulatory framework, research and development, and regionalisation.

The debate will be structured to encourage democratic participation and guarantee that the process is as transparent, thorough and rigorous as possible. "That's how it will be of most benefit to Quebec society," said Gendron. He indicated that growth in energy demand in Quebec was sufficiently slow to allow time for a broad and wide ranging public debate, long sought by environmentalists and renewable energy advocates.

The debate will involve three successive phases. The initial information phase, which began in late February, will be followed by the actual consultation and lastly, the preparation of a white paper. An expert and information committee is mandated to ensure public access to information and to guarantee the neutrality of the process. One of the information workshops, on regulatory aspects of energy policy, debated whether continued public ownership of Hydro Quebec serves the interests of society. The openness of the debate on this and other subjects was "amazing," said one participant. A 14 member committee, charged with conducting the public consultation, includes representatives of Quebec's main energy producers, consumers, environmentalists, aboriginal communities and elected officials. The committee will receive briefs and hold public hearings in Quebec's major cities.

Bernard Saulnier, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association and a researcher at Hydro Quebec, represents the renewable energy sector on the consultative committee. Saulnier notes that wind is the renewable energy source most ready for development in Quebec. If half of the expected demand growth for renewables is in wind, then the province will gain a strong wind industry.

"The process could result in a large set-aside for future wind acquisitions by Hydro Quebec," says another wind industry member, Kenetech's project development manager in Montreal, Richard Legault. "This debate is quite important since everything is on the table. People in Quebec are very positive and now see wind power as a realistic alternative," he adds.

Persons or groups wishing to participate in the public policy debate and seeking to be heard by the consultation committee must notify the debate secretariat in Quebec City by April 21, and then file their briefs by May 19.

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