Islanders all know about our many windmills, which on some windy days produce almost all the electricity needed here. What Islanders do not know is how the windmills benefit us and where the funds come from to build them.
The $30 million windmill project planned for Kings County, for instance, is being built by the P.E.I. Energy Corporation, a Crown corporation owned by us. They can borrow the needed funds at low government rates, around two per cent, and pay back the cost of the initial investment by selling the electricity produced to Maritime Electric. Ultimately, the Energy Corporation makes millions of dollars in profit, which they can use to increase energy efficiency for ordinary Islanders.
This is a sweet deal. Unlike building new schools or roads, windmills actually produce a net profit, and as a crown corporation the $30 million debt will not even appear on the provincial balance sheet, so provincial debt is not increased. It is literally "free" money as the investment is paid back with a profit. If only schools and hospitals were “free” as well! Of course they return benefits, in terms of a better educated and healthier population, but they are hardly free, as our province has to cover not only the initial cost of building the required structures, but are then committed to pay for the operation of the buildings and salaries every year. Good for society, yes, but not free.
But there are other projects that could join the “free” category of windmills. An example is solar collectors, currently supported by grants from Efficiency P.E.I. Homeowners receive grants to help install solar collectors and the result is reduced electricity bills. The initial installation is paid off by the savings after 10 years or so, and could therefore be considered “free". Once paid off with interest, the lucky homeowners receive free power for years to come.
A whole other category is net-zero energy buildings. So what kind of building is that? In simple terms it is a really well-insulated building, so energy efficient that all the building needs can be supplied by solar collectors on the roof (or windmills).
This is not a far-fetched futuristic concept. The P.E.I. Advanced House on Brackley Point Road was built 25 years ago is a net-zero energy house and the Jean Canfield building in Charlottetown is a net zero building as well. The difference between buildings and windmills is that with net zero buildings we are only talking about the extra cost. This extra cost is associated with the cost of extra insulation and triple instead of double insulated glass, typically 10 per cent for a new building. Spend an extra 10 per cent to make a building self-sufficient in energy and the extra cost will be paid off in 10 years. Of course the benefits do not stop in 10 years. The savings continue for the life of the building, help stop the climate crisis and the buildings are more comfortable to occupy.
The extra work also boosts the local economy. For all those reasons I made a motion in the legislature to make all new government buildings net zero. Why not do something that is free in the long run? However, the government only wanted to do one building: the next new school. But Islanders can still do the right thing and make their next new house net zero.
After all it is free in the long run and boosts the local economy. Do something for yourself, the environment and the P.E.I. economy. Go net zero!
Ole Hammarlund is the MLA for Charlottetown-Brighton. An architect on P.E.I. since 1975, he is a local expert in energy efficient buildings and Official Opposition critic of net zero. Reach him at [email protected].