Campaign promises fuel wind energy hopes in Nunavut
“We desperately need to find alternatives to diesel”
Wind energy has emerged as a hot item in the federal election campaign and politicians are hoping the momentum will have a lasting effect on sustainable power generation in Nunavut.
Prime Minister Paul Martin said that if he’s elected, wind energy will become normal, rather than “alternative” energy.
He’s offering to quadruple funding for the Wind Power Production Incentive, which offers a ten-year financial subsidy to wind power producers.
Wind energy already provides 20 per cent of Denmark’s power, and according to the Ontario government, it is the fastest growing electricity source in the world.
NDP leader Jack Layton made his pitch during a campaign stop in Calgary. He said if he’s elected, he’ll build 10,000 wind turbines across Canada, generating 10,000 megawatts of power distributed through a “green energy grid,” and managed by a “Green Energy” crown corporation.
Energy Minister David Simailak was pleased to hear new interest at the federal level. He says that wind energy “can be a very real alternative to diesel generation,” which now eats a crippling portion of Nunavut’s operations and maintenance budget.
“It can also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Simailak says. “Our plants already account for 21 per cent of total greenhouse gas production in Nunavut. We desperately need to find alternatives to diesel.”
But Simailak notes that the government of Canada already offers support for alternative energy programs.
The national Opportunities Envelope is one such fund. Last August, the liberals budgeted $160 million to spend on 50 per cent partnership projects that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
“Wind energy would fit perfectly into that,” Simailak said.
In fact, the Qulliq Energy Corp. was “already looking at wind energy as an alternative to diesel and this program came in very handy,” Simailak said.
Qulliq Energy is in the process of awarding a contract to a private developer to build wind turbine sites in three Nunavut communities.
With funding in place, and some political will, wind energy advocates, including Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson, believe that Nunavut could benefit enormously from harnessing wind power.
“We got into this situation of rising fuel costs in 2000, when I was the mayor of Cambridge Bay,” Peterson says. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we look into wind energy? This is the future.’ Here we are today, and we don’t have any wind turbines going.”
Peterson’s frustration is compounded by the fact that wind turbine technology has been proven to work in the Arctic.
“I went to Kotzebue, Alaska, and they have 14 to 16 turbines gently turning in the wind. I asked the guys up there, ‘where do you get this from?’ and they were just chuckling.”
Several wind turbines for that project come from Atlantic Orient, a wind energy company based in Charlottetown, and one of the companies which submitted a proposal to Qulliq Energy Corp.
Carl Brothers is a long-term wind energy advocate. He recently took a year-long leave of absence from the Atlantic Wind Test Site in P.E.I. to develop a wind/diesel project in Newfoundland.
He says there’s “no question” that the technology can be made to work in Nunavut, if there is enough money for the initial investment.
According to Brothers, installing one 50 kilowatt turbine can cost as much as $100,000 in the South. He estimates that installing turbines in the North would cost somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 per kilowatt, and that’s before operations and maintenance costs.
Setting up wind turbines in remote locations can present unique difficulties.
“People are used to dealing with wind turbines on main grid applications. When you start doing it in isolated communities, which are run on diesel, there are additional issues that need to be addressed such as system stability and diesel operations.”
In his opinion, the only way to make wind energy a reality is to research the economic aspects of seriously developing wind energy as a resource.
“It’s possible that diesel fuel is still the most cost-effective alternative but nobody knows,” Brothers says.