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Wind policy becalmed  

Nova Scotia’s bracing physical winds are the best on the continent for making electricity.

But the political winds here are a problem. In terms of public policy that allows eager renewable-energy entrepreneurs to do business, the Nova Scotia government is stuck in the doldrums.

Wind developers have the investment and are confident they can line up willing retail customers. But the government can’t get its head around the idea of letting this market work.

As Energy Minister Bill Dooks made clear in a Wednesday speech to a renewable energy conference in Halifax, the government’s focus is fixed on funnelling more green-power through Nova Scotia Power’s retail monopoly by ordering NSP to buy more electricity from wind, solar, tidal, hydro and biomass sources. About 12 per cent of the utility’s energy comes from renewables. Mr. Dooks said new government standards will raise this to 20 per cent by 2013 ““ a target NSP says it supports.

Mr. Dooks sounds well intentioned. But all he is really telling green-power entrepreneurs is that he hopes to build a better bottleneck between them and retail customers. If they and NSP can’t agree on price, they can’t do business.

What they want to hear is that the province will let them bypass the NSP bottleneck and deal directly with customers ““ something a government committee recommended three years ago.

But Mr. Dooks had only old news here. In February, he will finally have draft regulations allowing six small municipal utilities to buy power directly from independent producers ““ a deregulation baby-step the Utility and Review Board approved a year ago. Big deal. Bob Leth of Breton Windworks points out that still leaves producers shut out of 98.6 per cent of the retail market.

Mr. Leth is involved in another venture that will try to bypass the bottleneck without government help. Keltic Windpower Co-operative, a joint venture of several renewables companies and co-ops, intends to begin serving industrial and institutional customers next year with an off-grid solution ““ locating a turbine at each customer’s site.

“It’s a business in a box,” says Mr. Leth. “One turbine and all the trimmings plugged into one load, without transmission, without distribution.”

Keltic’s boxed solution is emblematic of the can-do spirit of this fledgling industry. If only the government had the gumption to break out of its own business-stifling box.


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