NB Power says as part of its goal to generate 40 per cent of its in-province sales from renewable sources by 2020, it will encourage locally owned, small-scale green energy.
The plan would involve co-operatives and First Nations communities building and owning wind farms, solar panels, small hydro projects, biomass or biogas facilities. NB Power would buy the energy from the communities. The Crown corporation currently has similar agreements with wind farms and other projects run by private companies.
"The beauty of community energy projects is that they would enter into a power purchase arrangement with NB Power," said Keith Cronkhite, NB Power's vice-president of business development and generation. "The revenues that we would pay toward those projects stays within New Brunswick and that's an important part of any renewable program."
NB Power says the capacity of the projects will be 75 megawatts. That is just under five per cent of the current level of generation. Renewable energy currently accounts for 31 to 32 per cent of in-province sales, according to Cronkhite.
The New Brunswick Department of Energy and Mines is currently reviewing NB Power's Community Energy Program. It's expected to issue guidelines in the fall about how the program should work.
Denmark and Nova Scotia
Denmark is a global leader in community wind power. It made the switch after the 1973 oil crisis and encouraged cooperatives in order to get communities on board.
"With very little opposition from the communities, because the farmers and the churches and the community groups owned the turbines," says Dick Bakker of the Ottawa Renewable Energy Cooperative. "If all of [renewable energy] was locally-owned there would be more emphasis by the industry on building smaller footprint turbines."
Bakker says when communities own the project themselves, they can make sure that overly-large or noisy turbines are not installed too close to residential areas.
Today, Denmark produces around 40 per cent of its energy from wind, compared to just over five percent in New Brunswick.
Across the Bay of Fundy, in Tatamagouche, N.S., a small cooperative has been producing energy with turbines for the past four years. The power being generated is fed into a nearby Nova Scotia Power substation.
Bakker says another key ingredient for facilitating widespread small-scale renewable energy is rebuilding the grid to allow power to be distributed easily between communities.
"The [current] grid is designed to take power from a limited number of large power sites and send it in one direction. If you're going to build a distributed power system with renewables you have to have thousands of little power sites," Bakker said.
NB Power says it is working toward introducing so-called Smart Grid technology. It will make the grid more efficient and allow power to flow back and forth between smaller energy sources.