Government funds technology lab -- Major wind turbine test site

The federal and Prince Edward Island governments are investing millions to establish a Canadian Wind Energy Institute (CanWEI) at the blustery north-western tip of the Atlantic province, a site the province's energy minister, Jamie Ballem, calls the "perfect laboratory" to test and demonstrate the commercialisation of new large and small scale wind technologies.

The federal government will contribute C$3.6 million to the construction of a 2895 square metre building that will house various testing laboratories, workshop areas and accommodation for visiting researchers. It will also pay about 75% of the institute's operating costs for the first five years, starting with C$1 million during each of the first two years and C$800,000 a year after that. Prince Edward Island (PEI) will contribute the land and about $285,000 a year for operating expenses.

The investment, says federal Prime Minister Paul Martin, is part of his government's plan to make Canada a major producer of renewable energy. "Clearly if you take a look at the energy demand of the world, we've got to do a lot more, and we intend to do a lot more," he said while on a tour of the CanWEI site. "This is only a very, very important step."

Testing turbines

Set to open next year, CanWEI will be located at North Cape, the site of a 10.58 MW wind farm owned and operated by the government owned PEI Energy Corporation. It is also where Vestas Wind Systems A/S chose to install a prototype V90 3 MW machine for testing in 2003. Ballem hopes other manufacturers will see CanWEI as a place to put new turbines through their paces. "It has got good wind, it's got varying weather conditions and it has research capability," he says.

At the same time, says Ballem, a focus will be on smaller turbines for remote regions, an area where Canadian research and technology development efforts have tended to be concentrated, and on demonstrating wind-hydrogen technologies.

In addition to research and testing, a key area of work for CanWEI will be industry training. Recent studies have shown that Canada's wind industry currently employs the equivalent of 720 full-time people, but anticipates requiring at least 13,000 by 2013. Ballem says PEI's university and community college have been "very much involved" in the institute's planning process and are developing courses to help meet the growing demand from the renewables sector. "It is more than classroom work. We are hoping to have people on site with various types of turbine, large and small, to give them a hands-on experience."

A fourth area of specialisation for the institute will be in providing technical consultation and assistance to companies in the wind sector. The business plan, says Ballem, calls for the Institute to be self supporting after five years.

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