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P.E.I is blessed with many things, traditional natural resources not being one of them. The Island has fertile land and bountiful waters but not the minerals and metals other regions have access to.
Some would say our people are our greatest resource, but it is not all about people. What we do have is a naturally occurring, unlimited abundance of untapped renewable energy.
The Island's orientation to the sun is actually quite good. Our communities could be generating a considerable contribution to their electrical demands. On an annual basis, O’Leary could generate a potential 1,133 killowatts per hour from photovoltaic solar panels. Kensington 1,119 kWh, Stratford 1,100 kWh and Montague 1,086 kWh. What if residential homeowners were empowered to generate some of their domestic power needs?
As with many progressive initiatives, Summerside is an island unto itself. Fiercely independent, progressive in their aspirations and punching above their weight, renewable energies is one such example. The city presently generates almost 50 per cent of its energy needs through renewables and could possibly be energy independent in a half-decade.
In today’s minority legislature, we have an official Opposition whose policies align strongly with renewables and environmental sustainability. In fact, every party would profess this alignment as public sentiment migrates to this new norm. We have ministers such as Brad Trivers and Ole Hammarlund as active advocates of renewable alternatives. We have an infrastructure opposition critic, Steve Howard, who has built an enterprise on assisting citizens to harness the power of the sun. Most importantly, we have one of the strongest ministers, Steven Myers, who appears committed to support Islanders in accessing our most underutilized natural resource. (A rolling-maul one would not want to oppose).
What opposition could possibly resist this legislative juggernaut? In an expected short-lived tenure, politicians are compelled to champion victories. This is one element of a common initiative that even the third-party will be trying to hitch their wagon to.
Will our provincial electricity distributors Maritime Electric (Newfoundland’s Fortis) or Summerside Electric (municipally owned) feel threatened? Notionally. In an environment of increasing demands and costly supply, reduction in off-Island electricity acquisition is a good thing for the short-run.
Utilities are mandated to support customers to reduce their consumption. However, if large numbers of commercial or residential consumers start operating their own self generating capacity, dividends will eventually drop and corporations will have to respond. Expect public support, and boardroom panic. (The key for consumers, under the current regulatory environment is to approach internal consumption generation, and not oversupply beyond need.)
The greatest, and perhaps only significant, obstacle remains cost. Inducements and incentives can lessen this barrier, and I will be watching for announcements post legislative close.
Beyond legislative will, utility ire, and unnatural government price interference; there remains an opportunity for industry. Building panels in P.E.I., where we import all our natural resources (except the sun), really is irrational (I am confident because I have evaluated this model).
However, in adapting to a new environment of PV generation, EV cars and self-reliance … there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to get out ahead of this opportunity. This is the area government should be supporting. Support the development of an industry, not just responding to a 40-year-old issue. We can lead progressively or rely on the solutions and innovations of others.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian’s small business columnist.