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Opposing currents: Technical snags, court challenge delay Nova Scotia tidal plan

One of Cape Sharp Tidal’s tidal-power turbines is transported along the waters near Halifax Harbour.

Cape Sharp Tidal

The deployment of two giant tidal power turbines that would generate electricity from the intense currents of the Bay of Fundy has been delayed by technical issues and a legal fight.

The 16-metre-diameter turbines were set to be lowered to the sea floor this past summer in the Minas Passage off Parrsboro, N.S., at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), a site established to try out large-scale in-stream tidal turbines and connect them to the power grid.

But now, it's uncertain whether the turbines will make it into the water this year, to begin tests of what could be an important new and reliable power source for the Maritimes.

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The two turbines were built in the shipyard at Pictou, N.S., for Cape Sharp Tidal, a joint venture between Nova Scotia utility Emera Inc. and OpenHydro, a French-owned, Irish-based tidal development firm.

One was sent by barge to Halifax, then on to Saint John, this summer, to be readied for deployment in Parrsboro. The second is expected to arrive in Saint John this week on another heavy-lift vessel. But after they were built, it was found that a key internal component of the turbines was not up to standards and had to be replaced. One of the turbines has had the work done – a complex operation involving removing the main rotor – and the other will be fixed in the next few weeks.

This technical setback slowed the timeline for getting the machines in the water, but a brewing court fight could put the project on hold for even longer.

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman's Association has filed a motion in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to stay a June decision by the provincial Environment Minister that would have let the turbine deployment go ahead.

Essentially, the association wants the project halted until there is more study of the delicate marine ecosystem where the turbines will sit.

"We are pro-renewable energy," said Colin Sproul, spokesman for the fishermen's association. "We'd just like to see it happen with a net environment benefit."

Mr. Sproul said there has not been enough research done on the baseline conditions of the diverse marine ecosystem in the narrow Minas Passage before any devices are installed. Without that, he said, it will be impossible to determine the true environmental impact of the turbines.

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He points out that a review – published by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in February – says the research conducted by FORCE between 2011 and 2013 was "insufficient to provide a thorough baseline understanding" of the marine environment before the turbines are installed. However, further research has been conducted since then.

Mr. Sproul said the whole idea behind installing the test turbines is to measure their environmental impact and see if the Bay of Fundy can support large-scale tidal energy development. "Our great fear is that these effects will be underestimated by the poor baseline science that they intend to gauge the future effects against."

The fishermen's court motion, which will be heard on Oct. 20, asks that no turbine be deployed until the Environment Minister's decision is reviewed by a judge in February. If the motion is granted, there will be no turbine in the water this year.

Despite these setbacks, Cape Sharp Tidal says it could still get the turbines in place in the next few months. Indeed, Emera chief executive officer Chris Huskilson told a conference in Halifax last week that if the repair work and "additional consultation" with the fisher groups is complete, deployment could happen this year.

FORCE, which was created by the federal and provincial governments and private sector partners as a place to test in-stream turbines and monitor their impact, is anxious to get a device in place. It has already installed power cables connecting its four underwater "berths" to a land-based substation.

"We need a turbine in the water to answer the most important research questions," said FORCE communication director Matthew Lumley. Still, he added, "If you use the Bay of Fundy, particularly if you are a fisher, or you have traditional access … you want to know that you are sharing it with a technology that is sustainable. We really have to show that it can co-exist. We understand those concerns."

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Three other consortiums have booked berths at the FORCE site, and each has developed different technology to generate electricity from the tides. Minas Tidal, Black Rock Tidal Power and Atlantis Resources/DP Energy are all hoping to get devices in the water in 2017.

Stephen Dempsey, executive director of the independent Halifax-based Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA), said his organization's work has determined that there won't be "significant impacts" from deploying a test turbine at the scale of the Cape Sharp project.

But the only concrete way to determine the actual environmental effects of turbines is to get them in place and observe what happens, he said.

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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