As those that know the story of Ann of Green Gables, this is also a very conservative society. Islanders hate change. They banned the car. They held onto prohibition longer than any other society in Canada. They protested the Bridge. But they are racing ahead to become the most energy independent society in the world. We will have 15% of our electricity from wind this year and by 2016 we plan to have 30% of all our energy from locally owned renewable resources. The way things are going, I bet we will do better than that.
So how did this happen? How did a profoundly conservative society get so positively excited about becoming independent from the global energy companies?
I think the answers rest in our own story as a society and in the passion and insight of an individual. This is a story about how to harness a story. This is a story about how to get a whole society to come with you into the world of energy independence.
First a quick review of our own story. Prince Edward Island was settled in a very different way from most places in North America. After the British ethnically cleansed the French settlers after the 7 years war, the land was surveyed and handed out to some pals in England. PEI was then covered in a climax oak forest. Many of these oaks were feet wide. Then there was no farm land there were just forest and rivers. Now we look like the south of England. Someone had to cut all these trees down.
To have a farm meant generations of back backing work.
The new settlers, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, were not free men but were tenants. You and your spouse would get 100 acres of land that you would rent. The two of you, with an ax and a horse would, over 2 generations, clear your 100 acres by hand and establish a farm that was still owned by the English non-resident landlord. Every month you paid him rent. He owned all the value of what you had achieved.
By the 1830's, the injustice of all the value being created by the tenant on behalf of the non-resident landlord became too much and there was a revolt. The landlords were bought out and the great awakening of PEI life began with a society of 15,000 yeoman farmers who owed nothing to any outsider.
So our own birth story was one of throwing off the bondage of the non-resident owner who sucked the wealth out of our society. This birth story is embedded in Islanders. It may not be conscious but it is our own Exodus story.
So roll the hands of time into the current era. Jamie Ballem, our minister for Energy, the Environment & Forestry is in a plane on his way home from a meeting. Jamie is well over 6 feet 4 and finds it hard to sleep in the tiny planes that serve us. His mind was racing. We spend about $400 million a year for energy to people who live far away and who care nothing for us. Our total provincial budget is about $1.2 billion, so you can see that our energy bill is a huge additional tax for us. His mind was racing around what this meant.
What if we could work to get our money back? What if we owned the renewable energy that we could produce? What if we made a start with 30% by 2016? That would be over $100 million a year.
This way of seeing the world is I think the beginning of a truly grand way of acting.
Jamie went beyond the merely technical idea of would it be nice to have some renewable energy to the main point. So long as a society ,or even you and I, are dependent on the oil companies for all that energy means to us - and is surely our entire way of life today - then we are slaves. It is not therefore enough for PEI or for you and I to use renewable energy, we have to own it as a community and as Individuals.
This is the core idea. Renewable energy can be put into operation at a scale that a small province like PEI with 140,000 people can own its own energy. I as an individual can redesign how I use energy in my home and can afford to become independent of oil in the heating season.
This is a picture of the Wind Site on the west side of PEI. We are currently building a site on the East side. From September to May we have more wind that any other populated society in North America. At the heart of Jamie's strategy is therefore wind but we will also look at all other renewable options.
While we are blessed with a great resource, simply having wind does not mean that we get control back. If we had allowed any Wind Entrepreneur to simply build and operate the sites, we would have made no progress as a society. We would once again have given up our power to a non resident landlord.
So Jamie, his deputy, John MacQuarrie, the Premier, Pat Binns, and their team have created a Trusted Space in which to engage the people of PEI.
Before acting they traveled to see what community models worked best. They found many answers in the small German Island of Fehmarn. Fehrman is a mini PEI. Linked by a bridge to the mainland, Fehrman was dependent on farming and tourism. It was dying. In desperation they resolved to become energy independent and have achieved this. A large part of their economy now is based on teaching others how to do this. Their advice to Jamie, John and Pat was clear. You have to own the resource as a society and you have to ensure that individuals own their bit directly.
So in Phase II that is what we have done.
PEI owns the total resource and locals directly benefit from it. The total rental per annum per pylon is $20,000. If your land is the site, you get $14k. If you are a neighbor, you get $4k. If you are 2 plots away you get $2k. All the pylons are located on private land. Some of the neighboring plots are on government land. That rent goes to fund the local community infrastructure.
The team have been relentless in being honestly engaged with the community. This was not the typical government "feedback" process where the whole idea is worked out in advance. Nor was it a process where only the supporters were consulted. The birders have had a major say and impact on the location of pylons.
Jamie knew that he had to get the trust of the community in order to get the ability to act.
He and the team understand the feeling s and hopes and fears of their neighbors. They acknowledged them and worked with them. They asked Islanders to participate in helping to make all Islanders free and Islanders are rising to the challenge. They did not talk down to Islanders they had conversations with them.
On one day's notice over 400 locals turned up for a tour of the construction site. This is Theirs!
Jamie's team have gone further. They have asked Islanders to finance this project directly.
Islanders are proud. People stop Jamie and ask him about their wind. What a grand beginning! As this idea of becoming energy independent takes hold, what will it do for us beyond the money? My bet is that it will change everything - we will become free men and women again with all that that entails.
Here is what I am doing in my home.
Here are some people on PEI that can help you do the same