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By Tony Reddin (guest opinion)
This Wednesday is a crucial deadline for comments to the Island Regulator and Appeals Commission (IRAC) on the application by Maritime Electric (MECL) to spend about $68 million on a 50-megawatt diesel generator.
On behalf of ECOPEI, I wish to state that this application must be rejected and much more consideration be given to alternatives, especially the use of publicly-owned, utility-scale battery storage units as an option for replacing fossil fuel combustion generators (and enhancing the use of wind and solar electricity generation).
Alternative and renewable energy programs have had a history of strong support by many Prince Edward Islanders - we in ECOPEI have played our part over the years with limited resources to promote clean sustainable energy options.
Recent major advancements in energy storage technology have led to large battery units that are now practical and affordable for use in back-up and management of electricity systems. For example, the Tesla Powerpack battery system is presently priced at about $250US/ kWh ($25000 for a 100 kilowatt-hour unit). According to MECL's own calculations (in documents on IRAC's website), that equates to a cost of $1,625 Cdn per kw, which is minimally higher per kw than the $1,360 Cdn per kw estimated cost for the proposed 50 MW generator.
Those calculations need more detailed work to include other factors, including decommissioning costs and the likelihood that the cost of battery units will decrease quickly.
We believe further study may show that battery units, which can not only replace generator needs but also serve other functions, are a much better option than the proposed 50 MW generator.
Utilities in other jurisdictions, notably Alberta and Vermont are now implementing battery storage projects.
Battery units have many advantages: quick installation; flexibility of purchase options; flexibility of size and location; no exhaust pollution when connected to renewables; decreased vulnerability to power outages; lower infrastructure costs such as transmission lines; as well as benefits for reducing demand and costs at peak and other times; and enhancing the use of wind and solar generation.
Wind power is P.E.I.'s best and cheapest energy resource, with many excellent potential sites still available. Solar power is quickly also becoming a competitive choice for P.E.I.
With energy storage, wind and solar can provide base load capacity and peak demand reductions.
Based on past reports to the P.E.I. Legislature concerning Energy Policy, we are optimistic that Paula Biggar, P.E.I.'s Minister of Energy, will take control of provincial electricity policy and electricity generation, by implementing the best options for making P.E.I. a leader in clean renewable energy.
P.E.I.'s energy future is too important to leave in the hands of MECL, which, although well managed, is a private corporation bound legally to prioritize shareholder profit, not public benefit.
For more information please contact me or go to the IRAC website www.irac.pe.ca.
Tony Reddin is ECOPEI‚Äôs energy project co-ordinator