Exploiting a valuable resource -- Island power exports

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The government of Prince Edward Island (PEI) has released an innovation strategy that targets the installation of 500 MW of wind power in the tiny Canadian province by 2013, more than twice the island's current peak load. The plan envisions PEI becoming a net exporter of green power. It has always been almost totally reliant on imported sources of energy.

"Our goal is to shape our future instead of reacting to events," says Premier Robert Ghiz. "By focusing our resources in a meaningful way, I believe we can put our island on a new economic path."

PEI, with a population of about 138,500, has a peak electricity demand of about 210 MW. The island currently has 72 MW of installed wind power capacity and, according to the strategy, will see that double to more than 150 MW by the end of next year. Michael Mayne, a deputy minister in the Ghiz government and author of the strategy, admits that integrating 500 MW into its electricity system is aggressive, but he is confident it can be done.

"Where that arises from is really the private sector. They have been so keen in terms of unsolicited interactions with government that we have upwards of 1500 MW in terms of opportunities in front of the province right now. Some of these look good and some don't look so good. They have different underwriting profiles and so on. But the point I want to make is that for us to get to 500 MW is a very real opportunity that we need to address."

There will be challenges along the way, says Mayne, and the strategy recognises that transmission is one. "This would require major expansion and upgrading of electrical transmission infrastructure both within Prince Edward Island and to the mainland," it says. The province's power grid can handle about 250 MW, while its undersea cable link with New Brunswick has a capacity of 200 MW. But Mayne sees PEI's small size, at 5684 square kilometres, as an advantage. "The grid is already on the ground. It is not like we have to put wind turbines in a spot where you then have to spend half a billion dollars to run cables into it."

Transmission included

In fact, says Mayne, many of the private sector companies looking to build on PEI are including transmission solutions as part of their proposals. "It is pretty interesting to have a courier package arrive on your desk with your whole life planned out for you by very smart people in big buildings south of the border." Maritime Electric, the province's privately owned monopoly utility, has also started mapping out how to respond. In December it issued a request for expressions of interest asking wind developers to submit projects for inclusion in the utility's transmission planning process.

Another key issue is the appetite of islanders for wind turbines in the landscape. "That is something we have to pay attention to as a government, because I suppose at some point you could probably populate the whole province with wind turbines. Somewhere along the line people are going to say that is enough," says Mayne. Shortly after releasing the innovation strategy, the Ghiz government issued an energy strategy discussion paper asking islanders how they would like to see the province's wind resources developed.

"To me it is not about getting to 500 MW as marker. It is that we are going to get to 500 MW, so how are we going to manage this? What are the expectations of islanders? We are going to have wind turbines turning in PEI for the next 50 years and beyond. Let's get this straight right now on what we want it to look like," says Mayne. "And as we get through the energy file consultations with the public, we'll get a much better feel of their comfort level of how and where these would fit and operate."

Managing royalties

He also expects get strong feedback on how to develop the wind resource in a sustainable way that delivers to PEI. "The wind belongs to islanders, kind of like the way the oil belongs to Albertans. It is really important how we manage the royalties that come off of the wind. Having 1500 MW at our doorstep may not mean a lot at the end of the day if we sign up to a lot of deals where the main beneficiaries are companies from New York or Chicago or wherever. We have to be very smart about how we approach this."

Pursuing a high penetration of wind power, says the energy strategy discussion paper, also provides the potential for the province to pursue research into wind integration and energy storage technologies. Mayne says it is an opportunity both the province and the country need to get serious about. He points to a recently announced C$13.6 million investment by Canada's federal government in the National Research Council's Vancouver-based fuel cell and hydrogen research centre. "We've got scientists working away in their rooms trying to figure out how to do this stuff and we have the wind blowing somewhere else. We have got to be a little smarter."

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