Environmentally hostile, non-renewable coal has long been king in Glace Bay, on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. Its streets carry a palpable air of decline now that the last colliery has closed. But across from Glace Bay High School, not far from where the town's first coal mine opened in 1857, change is in the wind. There, by the end of November, a 20-m-high windmill should be up and running, ready to generate 20 kilowatts of power once fully operational. It's one of a trio of sites for a federally funded wind-power demonstration project across Nova Scotia. A windmill in the middle of this tapped-out mining town is a perfect metaphor for how Canada's energy landscape is shifting. "This is a place that owes its very history to coal," says Paul McNeil, head of the school's science department, who will be in charge of the turbine. "With this we're turning the page."
It's high time - and not just for Cape Breton. Canada is lagging much of the world in harnessing the winds. Windmills can now provide about 205 megawatts of energy - just a tenth of one per cent of total electricity demand. Compare that to Denmark, a world leader. It generates 2,600 megawatts - 18 per cent of its electricity needs - from the wind. "We're playing catch-up," laments Susan Aris, a driving force behind a project that uses giant wind turbines to power the homes and businesses of Pincher Creek, Alta.
Quebec has emerged as the country's biggest producer of wind-generated power, although Alberta seems poised to take the lead. There's still huge untapped potential in the winds blasting across prairie lands and the Great Lakes, along the ocean coastlines. For now, Nova Scotia Power generates just 1.2 megawatts - less than one per cent of its total energy needs and enough to power 400 to 600 homes - from two new commercial wind turbines. It is considering proposals that would raise the wind-power component to 2.5 per cent by 2005, with 10 per cent being the goal. "The improvements in technology," says Chris Huskilson, the utility's chief operating officer, "mean wind is now efficient enough to be an important contributor."
Expect to see a similar increase in tiny Prince Edward Island, which generates about two per cent of its energy needs from eight turbines. "We've seen the impact of climate change," says Wayne MacQuarrie, chief executive officer of PEI Energy Corp., which owns the windmills. "Whether there was the Kyoto Protocol or not, the province would be taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
See also WIND ENERGY.
Maclean's November 11, 2002