It's been a good week for renewable energy in Nova Scotia. Minister of natural resources John MacDonnell announced that uranium mining will be permanently banned, pushing us further away from the nuclear debate. If we want to significantly cut carbon emissions, it's renewables (wind, solar, hydro, tidal and biomass) or sink.
And now Bullfrog Power is coming to town. The company specializes in green energy with a simple but effective model for consumers. "We put into the grid as much renewable energy as our customers use," explains president Tom Heintzman.
Heintzman is in town this week for the Power of Green conference, the government-sponsored confab that pushes businesses to go green. Heintzman will be back in two weeks, when Bullfrog officially launches its Maritime operations on November 4. The company will also hold a public information session at Mic Mac Mall on November 7.
Bullfrog has already boosted renewable energy markets in Alberta and British Columbia, where it launched in March of this year. The company uses what is known as demand-side management. It couples existing energy needs with our genuine desire to save the world to boost the renewable supply. The coal-dependent customer signs up to Bullfrog and simply pays the usual electricity bill with a small premium, and Bullfrog invests in renewable energy projects. All the coal-fired power the customer uses is offset with an equivalent amount of real live renewable energy fed into the grid.
Bullfrog already has more than 8,000 residential and 900 business customers, and has aspirations for national coverage. Heintzman points out that there are more than 750 utilities in the United States that offer similar green power options to their customers.
Last year I wrote in this space that if Nova Scotia would allow end-users to buy direct from renewable energy producers, some savvy entrepreneur could create an eastern version of Bullfrog. All that was needed was to make building renewables here easier. At the moment, renewable energy is a high-risk, low-pay game accessible only to large companies and volatile gamblers.
But Heintzman, a lifetime over-achiever, didn't want to wait for things to change. "It's particularly true in the Maritimes that people are community-oriented, and want a greater say in renewable issues," he says. "And there are incredible natural resources."
The problem that remains, regardless of public desire for the product, is this: we still have the same power monopoly and the same outdated grid, and Nova Scotia Power still controls ridiculously low prices paid to independent power produces who make green energy. The projects Bullfrog invests in will be in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, not Nova Scotia.
Heintzman hopes that will change soon. "The first stage is Nova Scotia has to decide if this is something it wants to do," he says, "to engage citizens in this level of dialogue on renewables." He plans to give his input to the commission working out how to reach the province's goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.
"We're recommending that volume marketing, consumer-driven growth, be one of the tools Nova Scotia adds to meet its targets," Heintzman explains. He feels it's an exciting time to enter the Nova Scotia renewable market because changes are imminent. He has already informed Nova Scotia Power and the province of the launch.
"It could be as tight as having an item on your regular bill from NSPI," Heintzman speculates, but the specifics in Nova Scotia have yet to be determined. He says he already has local customers signed up, both organizations and individual households.
The person behind that success is Dartmouth businessperson Holly Bond, who is known for starting the Bulldog Interactive Fitness chain for youth. Heintzman hired her as Bullfrog's Maritime sales director. "I made the leap from Bulldog to Bullfrog," she jokes. "I've lived in Nova Scotia my entire life. I know the environment and have the contacts so my job is to make sure the message gets out."
Heintzman feels that the Bullfrog model will give us a simple and effective way to engage in deeper conversations about renewable energy, while helping create tangible solutions. "It is really about getting change going at a grassroots level," he says.
With the uncertainty as to what Nova Scotia's new renewable energy policies will include, it's a testament to the Bullfrog model that customers are already lined up. Heintzman isn't surprised---Bullfrog has been well-received elsewhere. "This is about empowering people," he says. "It's about civic involvement in energy."
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