FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — A new report says locally owned wind farms could be dotting the landscape of New Brunswick within five years, generating power and profits for residents of small communities.
A preliminary report on a community wind energy model for New Brunswick released Thursday states there’s strong interest across the province in developing local wind farms that would help stabilize the cost of electricity.
Wind power has caught on in neighboring Maine, where a pair of utility-grade wind farms within sight of the New Brunswick border are operating or nearing completion. A third wind farm, in western Maine’s mountains, is being developed by a Canadian-based company, TransCanada.
Yves Gagnon, the K.C. Irving chair in sustainable development at the University of Moncton, said that in return for a relatively modest investment of $1 million by the province, as much as $200 million could be pumped into the economy through the construction of small-scale wind farms.
“These projects are smaller and need less capital to build,” Gagnon said in an interview. “Therefore it’s easier for communities to raise that capital. Fundamentally, community wind energy has an economic development policy objective, so you want to develop the economy through the ownership of wind farms at the local level.”
Energy Minister Jack Keir said the Liberal government is reviewing Gagnon’s 29 recommendations and will present a plan to cabinet this winter.
“Community involvement is an important piece in growing the New Brunswick energy hub, and is critical in achieving our goal of self-sufficiency,” Keir said.
Gagnon is recommending a 100-megawatt community wind energy program with between seven and 10 projects in its initial phase.
He said small farms of between three and five turbines cost about $33 million to construct, and he is suggesting a number of innovative financing arrangements for communities. While much of the cost would be financed through debt, he said communities could raise capital through such programs as a renewable energy investment fund.
“Citizens like you and I could invest some of our disposable income in a tax-deductible fund instead of investing in mutual funds that go to Toronto and come back in statements showing we’re losing money,” he said.
Although community farms would be smaller in scope compared to the larger commercial operations that soon will be in place in New Brunswick, Gagnon said they would be locally owned and operated. He said the economic benefits would stay at home.
“That is the crucial aspect of wind energy, you need to own the wind farm,” he said. “That is where you make the big money and community wind is the first step to having more ownership of wind farms here in New Brunswick.”
Although the capital costs of construction could initially increase the cost of electricity in a community in the short term, he said over the long term the price of power would stabilize.
Gagnon said several communities in eastern and northern New Brunswick are already looking at community farms, including Bouctouche, Balmoral and Edmundston. He said communities have to give themselves at least three to four years for testing, development and construction of the farms.
In addition to the prospect of community wind farms, there are already 400 megawatts of commercial wind projects on the books in New Brunswick.