A researcher from Newfoundland and Labrador studying renewable energy says the province has the greatest potential for wind energy development in North America, yet it fails to do so. 

"A lot of studies out there show that if [you] turn the island of Newfoundland into a single wind farm, we could produce 117 times the amount of electricity we consume," said Nick Mercer, a Ph.D candidate at University of Waterloo.

"Despite this tremendous potential for wind energy here in the province, we're currently ranked dead last among Canada's provinces in installed wind energy capacity."

'We're currently ranked dead last among Canada's provinces in installed wind energy capacity.' - Nick Mercer

Mercer said his research focuses on finding out why there is no wind development with such potential.

"In our most recent research study, we identified 19 or 20 different barriers to wind development in the province."

"But we're really breaking it down to three key lessons," he said.

"The first is that political barriers have been the primary impediment to wind to date, the second is that there are some very legitimate and serious technical and economic constraints for wind development here in the province and the third is there's a lot of misinformation." 

AFP_H646K

Mercer says wind power in Newfoundland and Labrador is clean and inexpensive, but a number of barriers stand in the way of further development. ( ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Law blocks development

Mercer said a different political strategy around renewable energy is required.

"Currently in the province there's a bill, called Bill 61, which de facto makes renewable energy development against the law," he said.

"It is prohibited for any private actor, any renewable energy company to come into Newfoundland to build a renewable energy source or to sell or transmit it on the grid. It's essentially against the law to build wind turbines in the province."

'It's essentially against the law to build wind turbines in the province.' - Nick Mercer

Bill 61 was passed in 2012 in preparation for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

It provides Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro "the exclusive right to supply, distribute and sell electrical power or energy" to retail or industrial customers for use by their operations on the island portion of the province, with certain exceptions. 

The bill also requires that "a retailer or an industrial customer buy electrical power or energy from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro."

Cheaper than Holyrood

Despite political barriers, Mercer said wind energy is becoming less expensive all the time, and the energy is particularly inexpensive in Newfoundland because of the wind resources.

"At our two existing wind farms in St. Lawrence and Fermeuse, we're paying about seven cents a kilowatt hour for our electricity," he said.

"You can compare this to Holyrood, where when oil prices are low, we pay about 10 cents a kilowatt hour for our electricity. When oil prices are high, we pay about 20 cents a kilowatt hour."  

'We do haves some high winds, but they're not quite high enough to affect the existing commercial wind turbines.' - Nick Mercer

Mercer also said the idea that winds in Newfoundland and Labrador are too strong to allow for wind-generated power is a myth.

"Most commercial wind turbines can withstand wind speeds of anywhere between 145 km/h to 260 km/h," he said.

"We do have some high winds, but they're not quite high enough to affect the existing commercial wind turbines."

With files from On The Go