A green-energy enthusiast with an innovative plan is trying to blow life into Ontario's fledgling wind power industry. "We've barely scratched the surface," Kevin Best said of Ontario's potential for wind-generated electricity.
Best founded the Grey Bruce Renewable Energy Co-operative, a not-for-profit group based in Owen Sound, and is pushing wind power as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional Ontario power sources.
He's convinced wind power could help meet energy demands if the province and big business considered it.
A provincial report this week said Ontario's coal-fired power plants -- one is near Sarnia -- will have to remain in use, despite a Liberal election campaign vow to close them, to meet a looming energy crisis as early as 2006.
Ontario relies on a mix of power sources for electricity --dams, nuclear stations and coal-fired plants, the latter under growing criticism by environmentalists because their emissions contribute to smog and global warming.
The warning Ontario could face a power crisis within two years gives Best more reason to promote wind power as an eco-friendly alternative through the co-operative's green flag program.
The program, which began in 2002, is a way people can directly support renewable energy, he said.
The co-op buys green tags, with each tag representing a specific amount of energy, from environmentally-friendly generators, which in turn place their electricity on the power grid.
The co-operative then sells the tags to consumers wanting to play their part in ensuring a cleaner energy supply by displacing coal-generated power.
In 2002, the group sold 500 tags, said Best, his operations affiliated with wind turbines on the Bruce Peninsula and in Port Albert.
The initiative is just one effort to promote wind power.
Planners of a major 100-turbine wind farm, to be built on the shores of Lake Erie, hope to have it up and running by 2005.
"We've actually started the design and engineering work," Jay Wilgar, co-founder of ATM Powergen Corp., the Toronto-based group behind the $235-million project that will generate enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.
Though wind generation alone can't solve Ontario's energy crunch, it can play a strong role, Wilgar said.
"It can be a great supporter source of energy."
Ontario has 13 wind turbines, including six operated by Ontario Power Generation and Huron Power at Pickering and on the Bruce Peninsula.
Still, the economic benefits of coal-generated electricity are hard to ignore, said Derek Blair, vice-president of the energy division at Ipsos-Reid, a market research and polling company.
"Coal-fired generation is the cheapest type of power," he said.
Though green generation doesn't have to be expensive, Blair said maintenance costs of wind turbines are high and they can't do much to suppress prices or generate enough power to meet Ontario's growing needs.
A compromise between fossil-fuel generation and cleaner alternatives, such as wind power, will have to be achieved, he added.
"A healthy balance is something Ontarians would support and do support," he said.
Best disagrees with such a cost-benefit analysis.
Calculations of the costs of wind power typically don't include health and environmental costs, Best said.
"You've got to look at the cost of coal on medicare and environmentally," he said, noting dirty air kills thousands of Ontarians each year.
Wind power is also a long-term solution that will pay off in the end, even in terms of economics, said Best.
As a renewable resource, wind provides an economic stability that non-renewable resources such as coal cannot, he said, drawing an analogy to a cost many Ontarians know -- their household mortgage.