By Colin Woodard Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
If you want a glimpse of this province's energy future, drive the winding country roads to its eastern tip, take a left at the sign for the village of Elmira, and follow the red dirt track to the right.
You can't miss it.
Ten wind turbines stand along the trail, each 26 stories tall, with blades as long as 125 feet. When workers finish the last one this month, the new Eastern Kings Wind Farm will generate 30 megawatts of electricity - 7.5 percent of the province's power - by harnessing the strong winds that buffet the island's northern shore.
But more than an isolated project, the wind farm is part of an ambitious plan to enable Prince Edward Island (PEI) - which has no significant coal, petroleum, natural gas, or hydro resources - to meet most of its electricity and 30 percent of its total energy needs from its own renewable resources by 2016. If successful, government officials say, this remote rural province will find itself at the cutting edge of the world's fastest growing energy sector.
"Right now we have to bring almost all of our energy in from off- island at great expense" - $440 million a year (US$384 million and 11 percent of GDP), says Jamie Ballem, minister of environment and energy. "If we can produce a third of that right here from renewable sources that's going to help the local economy and the environment."
In addition to the Eastern Kings project, PEI's government is backing the creation of a hydrogen-powered village as well as expansions to existing wind farms on the northwestern tip of the island. Private companies, meanwhile, are building plants to produce ethanol from locally grown sugar beets and residential heat from forestry and farming waste. Hydrogen-powered buses and boats may follow, whisking passengers around the island with fuel cells charged by wind-power.
A province known for lobster, potatoes, and low-key vacations, PEI may seem an unlikely venue for an energy revolution. It's a tiny place, an island the size of Delaware, with fewer people than Arlington, Va., or Eugene, Ore.
But PEI's small size is exactly what makes it appealing for the emerging renewable-energy industry to conduct pilot projects, says Mr. Ballem. "If you're developing a new technology, we're able to provide something nobody else can: a self-contained province where, with two days notice, I can get you a meeting with the premier or the head of the university," he says. "We're small enough to be affordable and big enough to be commercial."
Energy policy analyst Scott Sklar of the Stella Group in Washington agrees. "Clean energy industries are expanding at about 30 percent a year, and they're looking for places to put down investments.... In PEI, they've got an excellent renewable resource base, a small population, and a great willingness to move boldly. There's no doubt that that all plays in their favor."
The electricity-generating potential of the island's greatest energy resource - the wind - was recognized decades ago, and in 1980 Canada built its national wind test center on the island's northwestern tip. …