Despite growing demand for green energy, the economic downturn is throwing a wrench in windmills across Atlantic Canada.

Wind energy projects in the region are experiencing slowdowns or shutdowns as access to seed capital for start-ups and small companies withers away.

“Renewable energy – wind included – is not exempt from the credit shortage, especially as they are capital intensive projects,” said Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy at the Pembina Institute, a national, non-partisan sustainable energy think-tank based in Gatineau, Que.

In New Brunswick, two major wind energy projects planned by Acciona Wind Energy Canada Inc. in Lamèque and Aulac were delayed in late-March. The company blamed the delay on the global economic downturn.

“It has made liquidity for capital projects scarce,” said Eric Schneider, a spokesman for the company, during an interview at the time. Schneider said it’s “far more expensive to build and get financing in the market situation we’re dealing with right now.”

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Power signed six long-term wind energy agreements last year but the collapse of the credit markets has put the future of two of the six wind projects in jeopardy while the start date of another has been delayed.

Scott Harper, chief executive officer of the Wind Energy Institute of Canada in Prince Edward Island, said wind projects that have already raised enough seed money and have indentified private sector investors are doing fine.

“But companies that are in the business development phase are struggling and spending much more time finding investment dollars instead of working on technology development,” Harper said.

“Many companies are shrinking their projects or breaking them up into numerous phases,” Harper said. “But bigger companies are still going ahead as planned.”

Last week Irving Oil Ltd. said it is planning to create an “energy corridor” to deliver about 1,500 megawatts of power to the U.S. Northeast.

The company has launched a feasibility study for the plan, which would include transmission lines capable of carrying between 1,200 and 1,500 megawatts of electricity from wind generators, as well as a natural gas co-generator to supply base-load power for the transmission line.

But Weis, of the Pembina Institute, said energy projects across Canada could be stalled if policy here is not aligned to a new clean energy act unveiled last week by U.S. President Barack Obama. The plan will invest more than $50 billion over 10 years on clean energy.

“Given the huge investments in wind power made by President Obama, including financing assistance, without a Canadian equivalent there is a real probability of renewable developers taking their investment dollars south of the border,” Weis said.

“I have heard of several such cases already.”

However, growing demand south of the border might be a golden opportunity for Canadian business, said Tim Curry, the president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy, a Saint John-based regional non-profit industry association.

“Once we emerge from the downturn, Atlantic Canada is in a position to benefit from the demand that continues to increase in the United States,” he said. “And the continued economic and societal pressure to produce green energy will open up even more opportunities for Canadian businesses.”

This week the federal government expressed interest in developing Atlantic Canada’s renewable energy capacity. While the plan remains sketchy, Ottawa announced $4 million to support green energy projects in Atlantic Canada to create an “energy gateway” that would tap into the growing market in the U.S. northeast for hydro-, wind-, tidal- or nuclear-generated electricity.

“The government is beginning to understand that wind in the Atlantic provinces is like oil in Alberta,” said Sean Whittaker, vice-president of policy for the Canadian Wind Energy Association in Ottawa.

“There is no question that wind is a very rich resource in the Maritimes,” he said during an interview from Halifax. “The northeastern United States have legislated that a certain amount of their electricity must come from renewable energy sources.

“There is a keen interest in exploring how the wind in the Maritimes can be exported to the U.S. markets because they have lots of people and not much wind or available land,” he said.

“Any slowdown of projects we’re seeing now is temporary and will pick back up as soon as the markets turn.”