Amit Virmani. Nathalie Sturgeon Photo.

ENERGY WITH A GREEN TWIST

BY NATHALIE STURGEON

It was late afternoon on the Friday before the Labour Day weekend and Amit Virmani was finally able to speak. A group of New Brunswick MLAs pored over presentations on climate change. The room which was only meant to hold 30 people, was over capacity at nearly 50. Finally, after a long day of problems, there was a solution. Virmani was able to present his money-making ideas, with a green twist.

 Virmani, 28, is a well-dressed man favouring a sports coat and sweater vest, with dark wash jeans as a casual touch. His voice is deep, and warm.

Naveco Power is a Fredericton energy start-up. With an alternative to fossil fuels which are relied upon most everywhere

Conservation and renewable energy may be seen as unattainable luxuries in a province with a huge deficit, but Virmani and Naveco believe those ideals can be money-makers.

From its offices at the corner of Queen and Westmorland in downtown, Naveco is pursuing three goals: retrofit commercial and residential buildings to increase energy efficiency and promote the use of renewable energy; develop a small- scale wind turbine for commercial sale; and facilitate the development of large-scale renewable energy projects to reduce the province’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“We have had great success with our renewable energy development and commercialization project that involves a small wind turbine. On Canada Day, a lot of folks got to see that [the power of renewable energy],” he said. “As well, a lot of people got to see that we were powering the bouncy castles by GoGo Gymnastics.”

He said it’s all interconnected, like in the interworking of a trees root system; one branch will lead to another. The success of the wind turbine will mean jobs, jobs mean a better economy, and wind turbines mean conservation.

“Creating jobs here at home, investing money here at home,” he said.

The company is about to start its first community offering, meaning there will be public shares to raise funds for growth – and a retrofit for an office building in downtown Fredericton.

Virmani said they would retrofit the building with an efficient system that would cut the energy use bill of the building by more than 50 per cent. And they are under the gun, it’s a million-dollar raise and they only have 90 days to do it.

At the end of their presentation on that late Friday they were pleased. The MLAs had listened actively. At that moment, there was a sense of future for Virmani and his company.

The company models itself after successful projects in Nova Scotia. Along the border with New Brunswick stand gigantic wind turbines that generate a large portion of energy in that area. They remind Virmani that renewable energy is possible anywhere.

“It’s sticking with these small business values,” he says. “That’s the point of creating this [renewable energy].”

“What can we do that’s going to make money, but at the same time leaving a lasting mark and impression on society?” he said. “So it’s part of this philosophy of doing and being well at the same time.”

Virmani learned early what it takes to be successful in business.

Anil Virmani, his father, started Interactive Computer System Ltd. in 1977, selling computers and services. ICS today has 10 employees in downtown Fredericton.

“Dad’s got a massive shadow,” Virmani said. “There is no where I can go in this town that someone doesn’t know what’s Dad’s done. It’s always been a race to get out of that shadow, to some degree.”

But Virmani appreciates that shadow as he embarks on his own journey, to tap into the huge growth potential of renewable energy in the province. He wants to challenge the idea that renewable energy is “something that’s nice to have… something that might cost extra money. We have to change that mind set.”

Virmani said there is huge potential in a province yearning for economic growth and job creation.

“It is new territory that hasn’t be charted. So we are forging a new path, yes. There are number of new things we have to investigate,” Virmani said.

Virmani spins a little in his chair. He knows the chance to change the face of renewable energy in New Brunswick is possible. Like his father, and so many before him, there will be bumps in the road, but he said he will overcome them and keep pushing.

“We’re going to make the public aware of what this is, why they should invest, what the benefit it is to them,” he said. “We’re not talking about environmentalism. We’re talking about making cash here. Immediately the tune changes, … we’re just changing the language.”