The end of an eco era

Mary MacKay
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Kirk Brown, who was once director of research for the Institute of Man and Resources, stands in front of the P.E.I. Energy Systems Waste Plant in Charlottetown, which is one of a number of P.E.I. landmarks that began as IMR projects.

The Institute of Man and Resources (IMR) is officially no more.

Formed in response to the energy crisis in the 1970s, this not-for-profit independent research organization has left its mark on Prince Edward Island with various cutting edge projects that are now part of the landscape.

“The Atlantic Wind Test site at North Cape, Charlottetown’s district heating systems, the energy-from-waste plant, the P.E.I. Energy Corporation had all or part of their origins in (IMR),” says Kirk Brown, who was hired to be director of research for the newly formed institute in 1977 by the late Andy Wells, who was then principal secretary to Liberal Premier Alex Campbell.

The institute was created by an Act of the P.E.I. legislature in 1975 following a period in which Campbell and Wells worked to identify ways to reduce the Island’s dependence on external resources.

“I give Andy (who was IMR’s founding executive director) most of the credit for some of these things because he was the pusher on this stuff. He and Alex toured various organizations all around Canada and the United States and made contacts with people who could advise them on what this institute should do,” Brown says.

A team of like-minded individuals put together a proposal to the federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources that led to a three-year, $6-million 50-50 cost shared contract for IMR to implement the Canada-Prince Edward Island Agreement on Renewable Energy Development.

The official start date for the agreement was April 1, 1977.

IMR is often associated with the now bygone Ark for Prince Edward Island, a bioshelter experiment in sustainable living. The organization became project manager for the ark at the request of a federal/provincial management committee.

IMR’s projects also demonstrated renewable and sustainable energy options available to people, such as solar domestic water heaters and efficient wood burning stoves and furnaces and energy efficient houses.

IMR’s work was aimed mostly at individuals — humankind as it were — rather than corporations.

“We weren’t trying to help the corporations to do better; we were trying to find ways for people to become more self-reliant,” Brown says.

“(But) we thought we also needed to get corporations involved, so let’s have the province set up an energy corporation that could be responsible for larger projects and those kinds of things.”

With an advisory committee of P.E.I. government and Maritime Electric managers, the P.E.I. Energy Corporation came into being in 1980, under newly elected Premier Angus MacLean’s Progressive Conservative government. Brown became the first managing director on loan from the IMR for one year.

In 1977, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was still in the planning stage. David Baxendale, who was working with the P.E.I. Department of Health to set up the project, approached IMR to see if there was any other suitable source of energy to heat the building besides oil.

“So we thought about the possibility of using garbage because garbage was just being wasted and buried at a time when areas for waste disposal were becoming scarce, and there were a number of places in North America that were using it. So we toured around looked at all these other spots,” Brown says.

This led to a proposal for support that led to funding for the Energy From Waste Plant, which was constructed in 1981 to burn municipal solid waste to provide steam heat to the QEH. It officially opened in 1983.

Following privatization, this plant, now known as the P.E.I. Energy Systems Waste Plant, and several smaller systems were combined to create the Charlottetown district heating system, which now provides heat to nearby provincial government buildings, other larger private buildings in the downtown area and more. An IMR demonstration of energy efficient houses still exists in the Hillsborough area of Charlottetown.

In the early 1980s a proposal was sent out to architects and engineering firms for plans to build five energy efficient houses of different designs in a cul-de-sac.

“We put a cost limit on it that it would have to cost less than $40,000 (each),” Brown says.

“They were a little different looking so Islanders didn’t take to them right away,” Brown laughs.

Funding for IMR became more and more scarce as a glut of cheap oil flooded the market in the early 1980s.

“We had no more work to do of any significance after about ‘85. Once the price of oil dropped there was no way you could get money for the kind of stuff that we were doing, except for the wind test site, and that carried on,” Brown says.

“(IMR was basically) dormant, except it had responsibility for the wind test site until the Wind Energy Institute of Canada came along and then the (federal government) took over complete responsibility of the site.”

In 1990, an author was hired to compile the extensive history of IMR. The Institute of Man and Resources: An Environmental Fable by Alan MacEachern was published by Island Studies Press and released in 2003.

When the decision was recently made to wrap up IMR’s affairs, board members arranged to donate all files to UPEI.

There was still money in the coffers so donations of $10,000 were given to Island Nature Trust and the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I.

“There’s a real legacy (from the Institute of Man and Resources) . . . ,” says Brown. “You have the energy from waste plant, you have the district heating in Charlottetown and the whole wind (sector) that’s here. And that’s all here because of Andy Wells, with help from people all along feeding in.”

Organizations: Institute of Man and Resources, P.E.I. Energy, Department of Energy Queen Elizabeth Hospital Maritime Electric PEI Department P.E.I. Energy Systems Waste Plant Wind Energy Institute of Canada Island Studies Press Island Nature Trust Environmental Coalition of P.E.I.

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, North Cape Canada United States North America Hillsborough

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Recent comments

  • John Webster
    June 18, 2013 - 16:53

    IMR was well-intentioned but not rooted in the desired reality. There were many households in PEI during the Ark years with a much smaller and more responsible footprint - and much less energy use - than the Ark. Billed as a "prototype self-sufficient homestead', the Ark had a paid staff yet still could not function. During one power outage, staff put gas in the standby generator - which blew up, as it was a diesel motor. Solar systems froze and burst when staff failed to follow complicated procedures.The hydroponic-growing fishtanks generated so much moisture, two wood stoves were required to dry the place out. I know, because I installed the wood stoves. The problem of the 1970s remains current: we consume too much energy. As long as we look for alternative ways to consume too much, nothing will measure up to the incredible riches of fossil fuels. If we could scale our demands down to something sustainable, the task would be a lot easier and possibly even feasible. I now live in Alberta, home of the tar sands, which will likely push the climate past the point of no return. To ensure this happens, Alberta recently appointed an oil executive and industry shill to head the so-called 'regulatory' body for the province. It didn't have to be this way...

  • dm
    January 14, 2013 - 22:15

    maybe maybe the oil industry killed it lol why wouldn't they they kill every other program like it as well

  • Matthew McCarville
    January 14, 2013 - 18:42

    Maybe, maybe, just maybe you are wrong. It is not a harebrained idea to solve our energy problems. Air pollution and global warming are huge and growing problems today, as is energy insecurity and instability. Energy inflation from fossil fuels has consistently outpaced personal income growth since the World War era. For example, on PEI from 2003-2008 personal incomes grew about 3.5% annually while gas and oil prices rose by 10-15% annually. Even whenever the global economic meltdown occurred, partly due to the effects this squeeze had on discretionary incomes, even when this meltdown caused the price of oil to collapse from about $150/barrel to less than $40/barrel, if you look at prices versus income growth over the last decade we are still getting poorer. The wind turbines now installed on the Island thanks to the visionary initiatives by the IMR are not theoretical technologies, and these turbines have helped to stabilize our prices for the long-term, while also beginning to solve our air pollution and global warming problems. You may think the air is clean here, however air pollution from our current fuels will kill about 90 Islanders a year (Canadian Medical Association, 2008) and associated costs to the provincial economy are at least $30 million a year and rising. This only includes effects from near-surface ozone and PM2.5 emissions (PM2.5 is fine particulate matter that does penetrate deep in lung tissue). So maybe it's a harebrained idea to think the solution is to just keep doing what we have been doing. You seem to be so against spending tax dollars on energy-related projects. So maybe, maybe, just maybe you should encourage our Canadian government to stop the $1.3 billion we are currently giving the fossil fuel industry each year, in terms of subsidies, only to make these global problems worse. Global clean energy is within reach if we put our collective minds to it. The costs are of wind, water and sun technologies are affordable and the price is stable because the fuel cost is zero. These are especially more affordable than current fuels when you remove subsidies from current fuels and accurately account for the real external costs which society does bare from pollution and global warming impacts.

  • Anonymous
    January 14, 2013 - 17:33

    The Institute of Man and Resources was on the right track. We can continue building on the IMR's foundation. We've continued learning much more about the problems of our current energy infrastructure. Each year 2.5-3 million people die prematurely worldwide from air pollution and global warming is a major growing problem. On PEI, about 90 people die prematurely each year from air pollution. The cost of the province’s air pollution from the current fuels is at least $30 million/yr and rising. Without change, the number of acute and chronic mortalities, minor illnesses, doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, school days and work days lost, lost productivity and resultant costs will simply grow, grow, grow. We're at risk of disappearing half the world's biodiversity near the end of this century without implementing carbon-free energy solutions. With the increased fires floods and droughts we'll see food and water shortages worldwide on a scale that will put humankind's civilization in clear jeopardy of global systemic failure. Energy insecurity and geopolitical instability will persist and worsen with current fuels. Energy inflation has consistently outpaced personal income growth since the World War era, it's making us poorer. For example on PEI from 2003-2008, incomes grew about 3.5% annually while gas and oil prices rose by 10-15% annually. Now, we have solutions. We can provide all of our energy needs from clean, perpetual supplies using wind, water and sun – energy for the long run. Such a conversion requires only 1% of the world's land for footprint and spacing, mostly open space between wind turbines. Four million 5-megawatt wind turbines will power half the world in a 2030 clean energy economy – the footprint of turbine towers on the ground, with half offshore, would be smaller than the urban area of Charlottetown. We can power PEI, the Atlantic region, Canada, North America and all humankind by combining these sources optimally and replacing all the energy sources we burn today within the next 20-40 years – scientists focused on finding solutions have found no technical or economic barriers to this conversion to clean energy, and the costs will be similar to today. Whether it's foregoing fossil fuels, nixing nuclear or rebuffing biofuels - we just don't need them as wind, water and sun simply beats out the alternatives. It is 'hair brained' to think we can just keep burning everything. If we do this, eventually there will be no such thing as Prince Edward Island, about 90% of it will be underwater as we'll eventually melt the world's ice pack and flood 7% of the world's land. Well before this happens though, the world will be a terrible place to live. "Maybe Maybe Maybe" you should wake up to reality. We cannot solve these problems of our age: air pollution, global warming and energy insecurity, with the same thinking that got us into the situation. If we put our collective minds to it using science, the solutions are well within reach. It is now time for us to reach out and grab hold of our potential to change our world for the betterment of humankind. This fits very well with the Occupy and Idle No More and Plan B movments. Millions of people around the world, including on the Island are mobilizing to save civilization. When this is done we will finally relegate the major problems of our age to the annals of history.

  • maybe maybe maybe
    January 14, 2013 - 13:08

    When the Institute of Man and Resources is all reduced down to one word, it is "maybe" at best. This project has been a bonanza for flakes, nuts and hair brained ideas. The "Institute" experiment cost millions of dollars, lots of consulting and lots of studies that amount to wasted tax dollars.

  • James Macgoo Lakeside
    January 14, 2013 - 12:39

    Thank you to these individuals for their dedication and efforts. They have left more than a legacy. They may inspire some students at UPEI. The use of their files combined with the infrastructure created by their efforts may lead to the next big evolution for island energy.