The nationalization of Quebec’s hydroelectric power in the 1960s was the crowning achievement of Rene Levesque, then a Liberal energy minister, who later became the first Parti Quebecois premier. More than 40 years later, some suggest the province should follow in his footstep and nationalize a booming new industry – wind power.
Government-owned Hydro-Quebec has become a symbol of Quebec’s pride and know-how and developed into the largest single electricity producer in North America. The utility has a virtual monopoly on the distribution of electricity in the province, most of it produced by its own dams.
Quebec has been called the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy” and experts say it gives the province a bright future.
“Quebec has a tremendous wind energy potential, more than it will ever be able to utilize,” says Robert Hornung, director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). “ And what’s interesting is that on a year to year basis, wind is actually much more constant than hydro.”
Quebec produces 321 megawatts of wind power, and by 2015 it’s expected it will have over 4,000 megawatts. A huge wave of capital investment is expected to flow into this industry in the near future as Quebec will close a tender in September for 2,000 megawatts.
Other provinces are also embracing wind power. Alberta’s current capacity is 442 megawatts, followed closely by Ontario with 415 megawatts. Manitoba has major developments in progress, which will create 300 megawatts by 2009. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia are also starting to get in on the act.
Some politicians believe wind power can do for Quebec as much as hydroelectricity has done – create economic growth and employment.
One of them is Claude Roy, a newly elected representative of the Action democratique du Quebec, a right-wing party that won 41 seats in the recent spring election and has become the official Opposition in the National Assembly.
Roy is calling for the nationalization of wind power and a moratorium on all new projects in the province. “ Right now, the development of wind power in Quebec is archaic, reckless and environmentally careless. Money just wins out,” asserts Roy.
He deplores that only major private projects are approved by the provincial government and would rather see all Quebecers benefit from that natural resource. “It should be seen as a communal resource,” said Roy, who wants to promote small-scale community wind farms.
He will run his proposal by his fellow party representatives at an August caucus meeting.
Last fall, Andre Boisclair, Parti Quebecois leader at the time, rejected a motion from party members calling for the nationalization of wind power.
The current Liberal government also dismisses the idea. For now, Hydro-Quebec buys wind power from private producers.
Quebec’s leading expert in wind energy says the province’s strategy is purely political and aimed at big corporations. The province established a minimum price that wind developers will have to pay landowners, but he says the market rate is already double or triple that in some places.
“There is not enough room for small groups or cooperatives who want to take part in wind power development,” says Jean-Louis Chaumel, a professor at the Universite du Quebec in Rimouski.
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, the installation of new wind energy capacity in Quebec over the next decade is expected to create more than 43,000 person-years of employment during the construction phase and over 1,500 permanent jobs during the operational phase.
It is also estimated that the new wind farms will provide ongoing payments of $10 million per year in the form of royalties to municipalities and leasing fees to landowners.
Wind farms could breathe new life into small communities in wind-swept eastern regions which have suffered from the decline of industries such as lumber, pulp and paper, mining and fishing.
The Gaspe region of Quebec has positioned itself as wind power’s promised land, with a growing number of farms operating or about to start up. “Gaspe jumped on the boat at the very beginning,” said local businessman Bruce Jones.
He co-founded a wind-consulting venture, Kwatroe Consultants, and asserts that this wind business is an investment in the region’s future.
“As I often say, I have a 10-year-old daughter and when she is 23 years old, I want her to have a choice to live in Gaspe,” he said.
According to consulting firm Emerging Energy Research, Canada’s installed wind power capacity should soar nearly tenfold by 2015, to 14,100 megawatts. In a recent report, analysts wrote that the Canadian wind power market will see unprecedented growth over the next decade and the two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, are expected to account for 60 per cent of the country’s total market growth during that time period.
“There definitely is a wind energy boom in Canada,” says Hornung.
He estimates that wind will account for four per cent of Canada’s electric generating capacity by 2015 (it’s currently less than 0.7 per cent) and that – in less than a decade – wind could rival natural gas as an important secondary source of electric power in Canada.
While wind energy is praised for its environmental benefits, but it keeps facing opposition, especially in small communities where some 110-metre high wind turbines are not always welcome. These worries have been echoed in different parts of the country. A proposed wind farm in northern Nova Scotia has come under fire from a group of local residents supported by Nova Scotia-born singer Anne Murray. A similar debate played out recently in southern Ontario surrounding a wind farm near Kincardine, and objections have also been raised about developments in Prince Edward Island and Alberta.
Marianne White, CanWest News Service
29 July 2007
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