Nova Scotia's "large potential" for wind energy

In his article on dirty coal, Ralph Surette touched on the subject of wind energy, referring to "Nova Scotia's large potential for wind energy" (Herald, 30 April).

Claims such as these are misleading because they reinforce the unfounded belief that the province is on the verge of a wind (as opposed to gold) rush because "Nova Scotia is a windy place". To be fair, Ralph Surette is not the first person to have made these claims; over the years, numerous wind experts have visited the province and made similar pronouncements.

Of course Nova Scotia is windy; however, whether the winds would justify the installation of a wind turbine in a given location is another matter. Some locations have wind speeds that could power utility sized turbines; while in others it would make no economic sense to install a wind turbine (despite claims to the contrary by local residents).

In order to determine Nova Scotia's potential for wind energy, it will be necessary to perform a multi-year, systematic mapping of the province's winds. The data obtained would be organized into a Nova Scotia wind atlas, showing the statistics for the locations surveyed. As more data are gathered, a detailed picture of Nova Scotia's wind resource would be obtained.

The proposed wind atlas would be a public document, allowing anyone, from individuals to entrepreneurs, the opportunity to determine the wind resource for a given location in the province. The information available in the atlas would allow Nova Scotians to take advantage of wind energy: either as individuals to offset their utility bills or as commercial entrepreneurs to sell electricity to Nova Scotia Power.

Each location surveyed for the proposed atlas will require a 50 metre tower and data collection equipment operating for a year. The cost of the tower and equipment, as well as the data analysis, will be about $25,000 per site per year. If 40 sites were to be measured annually, it would cost $1 million per year. The atlas would take three to five years to complete.

So who pays?

In deciding "who pays", it is necessary to ask, why do we want to build the provincial wind atlas? Most Nova Scotians would probably reply that they want electricity to be generated from sources other than coal or oil. This being the case, the polluter, Nova Scotia Power, should pay.

In 2004, NSPI emitted about 9.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from its thermal power stations (fueled by coal, oil, and natural gas). If NSPI paid a levee of 10.6 cents per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, the provincial government could collect the $1 million to cover the cost wind atlas project. (For those concerned about what this would do to the price of electricity, take heart, it is about 0.0082 cents per kilowatt-hour.)

The provincial government already has legislation in place to charge NSPI for their emissions; the "Industrial Air Emission Fees Schedule" for 2004-05 charges NSPI $2.70 per tonne of sulphur dioxide emitted. A simple amendment to the schedule would allow the collection of the carbon dioxide fee.

Determining where "Nova Scotia's large potential for wind energy" exists will require the development of a provincial wind atlas. Whether such an atlas will be created is now up to the provincial government.

Published Chronicle-Herald, 6 May 2005