Welcome reprieve for test centre -- Minister extends funding

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Canada's national wind power research centre has received a new injection of federal cash, just weeks after questions were being raised about whether Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) would renew funding when the current budget runs out later this year. The Wind Energy Institute of Canada opened in October 2006 at the windswept north-west tip of Prince Edward Island (PEI) after the Canadian government invested C$3.6 million to build 730 square metres of new laboratories and workshop areas at North Cape. The land and assets of the existing Atlantic Wind Test Site, which had been operating there for nearly 30 years, became part of the new institute.

When the institute, known as WEICan, was launched, NRCan committed C$1 million a year for two years towards its operating costs. That funding agreement ends in September. Rumours strong enough to prompt questions in both parliament and the PEI legislature had been circulating that it would not be renewed.

But on a whirlwind visit to PEI late last month, the lead cabinet minister for Atlantic Canada announced C$2 million over the next three years for the institute. "Supporting energy-efficient and renewable-energy technologies is an integral part of our government's action on climate change," says Peter MacKay, minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), which is joining forces with NRCan to provide the new funding. NRCan says it is working with WEICan to formalise the terms and conditions of the reduced funding and wants a revised business plan from the institute. "We look forward to seeing the details of this commitment once it has been negotiated by the funding partners," says Richard Hassard, board chair of WEICan. The PEI government is also investing C$855,000 in WEICan over the same time period.

Small turbines

WEICan's 14 employees are engaged in a range of projects, including a recently launched program of type testing of small wind turbines designed to allow them to be certified by the newly established North American Small Wind Certification Corporation. WEICan allocated C$250,000 for the testing and selected five companies to participate. Entegrity Wind Systems, a Prince Edward Island-based manufacturer of a 66 kW turbine, is one of them. Company president Malcolm Lodge, who built the Atlantic Wind Test Site and served as its manager from its opening in 1980 until 1990, says WEICan is a major resource for companies like his in the development and testing of their products. "The small wind industry in Canada, if it is going to thrive, is going to need it," he says. According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, about half of all the world's manufacturers of turbines in the 20-100 kW range are based in Canada.

The PEI government recently released an energy policy discussion paper suggesting WEICan is well positioned to play a role researching how large volumes of wind energy can be integrated into power systems. The province, with an electricity load of 200 MW, currently has 72 MW of installed wind capacity. That figure is expected to double by the end of 2009 and reach 500 MW by 2013.

ACOA, says MacKay, is also investing C$480,000 in a new wind turbine technician training program at PEI's Holland College. The provincial government will contribute C$450,000, while WEICan and Holland College will invest a combined C$303,000.

Joe McGuire, the member of parliament for the region where WEICan is located, was the first to publicly raise the issue of whether federal funding for the institute would continue. He questioned whether NRCan was looking to shift research dollars into clean coal research. In its 2008 budget, the Conservative government allocated C$240 million to a carbon capture and storage project at a coal-fired electricity plant in Saskatchewan and another C$10 million to work on CO2 storage questions. Last month it launched a call for proposals for two initiatives with combined funding of C$140 million: one to advance carbon capture and storage technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands and coal fired electricity plants and the other for technologies to reduce the environmental impacts of oil sands production.

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