With the New Brunswick government’s emphasis on power generation as part of its economic growth strategy and largely untapped renewable energy sources, there is a lot of potential for electricity generation in the province’s future.

NB Power owns seven dams, two coal plants, two oil facilities, three combustion turbines and the nuclear plant at Point Lepreau.

This makes up the vast majority of New Brunswick’s energy production, but the trend moving forward is to let the private sector develop the infrastructure for capturing power from wind, the tides, the sun and the land.

This means there is money to be made in generating power.

“New Brunswick is open for business,” said energy minister Jack Keir.

And both the minister and industry association president agree the most immediate opportunity is in wind.

“We had a Danish consultants report completed that suggests that New Brunswick has a wind resource of anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 megawatts,” Keir said. “What the Danish report suggests is we could double our total generation with just wind.”

All of New Brunswick’s current generation stations produce a combined 4,000 megawatts.

“So even if they’re half right, suggests there could be anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 megawatts of wind is … a huge amount of opportunity,” Keir said.

In attempts to capitalize on New Brunswick’s wind potential Keir has taken what he calls a “two-pronged” approach.

To get New Brunswick’s wind energy production up and running the province has invited multinational corporations to invest in the expensive infrastructure and set up here so they can sell electricity to NB Power.

Calgary’s TransAlta Corp. (TSX:TA) has already spent $170 million setting up its 96-megawatt Kent Hills Wind Farm about 40 kilometres southwest of Moncton and began commercial operations on Dec. 31.

Suez Energy North America Inc., owned by French company HDF Suez S.A. (Euronext:GSZ, GSZB) is building a 99-megawatt wind farm in Caribou Mountain with construction expected to finish up by the fall of 2009.

And Acciona Wind Energy Canada, part of the Spanish conglomerate Acciona, SA (BMAD:ANA), is constructing a 49.5-megawatt wind farm in Lamèque, as well as a 64.5-megawatt wind farm in Aulac.

But there will also be opportunities for smaller businesses to set up their own wind farms. Keir said the government is working on developing a community wind farm model.

“What it would include is some form of subsidized kilowatt hour of wind, and help with the investment through the municipality,” he said.

Though wind energy technology isn’t cheap, running it is.

But the down side to windmills is there’s no way to guarantee how much the wind will blow.

“The only place you can guarantee that is in the legislature,” Keir said.

Another potential for huge energy development is tidal power. With the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy, Tim Curry, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, is sure there is a future there.

“What we haven’t figured out is what really, really, is the harness able potential,” he said. “I think that’s going to take longer and cost more.”

In May 2008, the province awarded Irving Oil Ltd., in partnership with Huntsman Marine Science Centre, the right to study the potential for tidal power at 11 in-stream locations. Irving Oil is spending $600,000 on the study. But they are a long ways off, Curry said.

“I wouldn’t want to have to be planning on heating my house with the energy from tidal energy next winter,” he said. “I might get a little chilly.”

Tidal power developers are faced with ecological challenges as the turbines could disrupt marine life and therefore the local fisheries.

Tidal power also has difficulties on the equipment side.

“You can almost buy what I refer to as a wind farm off the shelf,” Keir said.

But that isn’t true for Tidal power.

“We were over in Scotland to a renewable energy conference there two years ago and there was 86 different types of equipment that you could put in the water to harness tidal energy,” he said. “None of them are tested, tried and true.”

Along with the wind and tides, there’s also sunshine potential.

Norwegian company Umoe Solar AS has purchased a Miramichi saw mill previously owned by UPM-Kymmene (HEX:UPM1V) and will will hire up to 350 employees to work its future solar cell plant on the site. But the company’s chief executive Øystein Øyehaug said they are in very early planning stages.

“We are now considering how we can co-operate with UNB in order to establish research activities supporting our plans,” he said in an e-mail. “These are vital in order to create a long-term competitive plant on the forefront of technological development in our industry.”

Keir said the government would be “silly” not to look into finding some potential for solar power in the province.

“I think its going to depend a great deal on how quickly Umoe gets up and operating and what the advantages are for New Brunswick,” he said.

Growing energy off the land is still another alternative-energy option, but bio-energy’s potential is less clear than wind options, for example.

“It’s less clear how significant that might be as an energy resource,” he said. “Simply because it’s not as if you’re immediately going to stop doing all the things now with the biomass resource in the province and either burn it or cook it down into chemicals to produce energy.”

This is another area the government is studying.

Both Keir and Curry agree, with the increasing focus on carbon emissions most fossil fuels will decline in the future. Curry added coal to that category as well. But neither man thinks alternative energy sources will eliminate nuclear power.

“I don’t think any one of those renewables is a silver bullet that can stand alone and look after the needs of New Brunswickers,” Keir said. “I think if there is a silver bullet in electricity generation its in diversity. And I think New Brunswick Power has that for sure.”