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A lack of support from the federal government is hindering the growth of the tidal industry in Nova Scotia, claims a company that recently pulled its application to expand its tidal development in the Bay of Fundy.

Last month, Sustainable Marine Energy — a company with operations in Nova Scotia, Scotland and Germany — told the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) it wouldn’t be following through on its proposed tidal project following years of back and forth with the department. And some in the industry say it’s an issue that is hindering tidal power expansion as a whole.

Sustainable Marine’s project is a collaboration with the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), a non-profit organization focused on tidal energy research in the Bay of Fundy, which has the highest tides in the world. Sustainable Marine has an existing tidal project in Grand Passage in the Bay of Fundy near Digby, which has been connected to Nova Scotia’s grid since 2022. The company had proposed to expand that project and move it to FORCE’s location in the Minas Passage, higher up in the Bay of Fundy where there are existing subsea cables for grid connection. In 2020, the project received almost $30 million from Natural Resources Canada — the largest government investment in tidal power.

Tidal works much like wind power: underwater turbines rotate to produce energy depending on the strength of the current. Projects are often situated on the seafloor. However, Sustainable Marine’s project has its turbines mounted on a barge in Grand Passage, and the eventual move to the Minas Passage would expand that same technology.

CEO Jason Hayman said the project was undermined by government red tape. Despite providing ample environmental monitoring data and trying to work with DFO, Hayman said the department categorized the project as high risk while “not providing any real justification” or path forward.

The company studied the marine environment extensively and monitored fish and marine life at the current site with the help of other organizations and experts, Hayman said, adding the monitoring showed there would be no harm to fish or other marine animals.

DFO responds

DFO says it has authorized four tidal projects in the Bay of Fundy for Sustainable Marine in the past. A statement from spokesperson Jeff Woodland said the department has “developed a clear regulatory pathway to guide proponents through the process.”

Tidal company Sustainable Marine said the project was undermined by government red tape despite providing ample environmental monitoring data and trying to work with DFO. DFO says it has “developed a clear regulatory pathway" for the industry.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that good projects go ahead,” said Woodland, adding DFO must uphold the Fisheries and Species at Risk acts. Companies proposing tidal projects are required to submit a monitoring plan to help the department evaluate potential impacts on fish and their habitat, he added.

The tide eddies around Black Rock in the FORCE test area in Minas Passage, Bay of Fundy. Photo by Nicolas Winkler

Two at-risk species — the white shark and inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon — are present in the Minas Passage where Sustainable Marine’s new project is proposed, an area with especially low visibility, said DFO.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston weighed in on the news last month, taking to Twitter to call out the federal government for its lack of support for tidal power.

In a statement to Canada’s National Observer, he called the news a “massive blow to the tidal industry in our region.”

“I’m incredibly disappointed in our federal government and their unconcerned attitude towards an opportunity to green our grid,” he said.

“... From a provincial perspective, there is nothing standing in the way of this project. Our government will continue to advocate for this project and hope common sense prevails.”

Industry-wide issue

Compared to other renewables like hydro, wind and solar, tidal power is less developed and there have been setbacks for the industry in Nova Scotia. While the immense energy potential of the Bay of Fundy presents an opportunity for tidal, the strength of the tide can also be a barrier.

A 1,300-tonne turbine has sat dormant on the ocean floor since 2018 after a company called OpenHydro filed for liquidation following the turbine breaking beyond repair two months after connecting to the province’s grid. In 2021, Nova Scotia Power shut down its tidal generating station after its generator failed and DFO stepped in, saying the project harmed fish. The fishing industry unsuccessfully went to court to overturn a tidal approval due to concerns around wildlife monitoring and has questioned the industry’s impacts on fish and other sea creatures as a whole.

The industry is well aware of the setbacks, said Lindsay Bennett, executive director at FORCE. She describes the state of tidal being where wind and solar were 10 to 15 years ago but stresses that it’s an energy source worth pursuing.

The Minas Passage has approximately 7,000 megawatts of energy potential, enough to power all two million homes in Atlantic Canada, and 2,400 MW could be extracted without having negative impacts on sea level, said Bennett.

“There's an understanding that [tidal devices] may pose some level of risk to marine life. And really, that risk needs to be considered against the very clear risk from the effects of climate change,” she said.

“In the last 10 years of initial research, there have been no observations of a marine mammal or seabird colliding with a turbine. The limited number of interactions with fish in close proximity to a turbine haven't resulted in any obvious harm.”

Tidal power presents tremendous potential in the Bay of Fundy, said Bennett, which is nestled between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, provinces struggling to get renewables on board.

As of 2019, 51 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity generation was coal, 22 per cent was natural gas and three per cent came from biomass and geothermal energy. Last month, the provincial government handed the maximum possible fine to its privately owned electrical utility for missing a renewable energy target: $10 million. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions grew in New Brunswick last year, where the energy mix is 38 per cent nuclear, 22 per cent hydropower, 15 per cent natural gas and 14 per cent coal. The remaining is a combination of wind, biomass and petroleum.

Giving up on tidal research is the wrong move, said Bennett, who worries Sustainable Marine’s experience will set a precedent going forward.

“If there's not change going forward, and greater predictability in what the regulatory process is, we're very concerned that they may not be the last,” said Bennett.

“And that could have very serious impacts and effects on our organization, but also … [on] this great opportunity to demonstrate and learn about tidal energy and, harnessing this resource that we have in the Bay of Fundy.”

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 5, 2023, 09:40 am

Updated to correct that Bennett was talking about sea level regarding the amount of megawatts that could be extracted without having negative impacts in the Minas Passage

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This is a massive disappointment and demonstrates how out of touch DFO bureaucrats with the existential crisis of our times, namely climate change that threatens all life on earth. They have resorted to the usual safe response by foot dragging, red tape with the result being an answer of "no".

I think you are correct, but on the other hand I don’t think enough research has been done about the effect on fish, especially endangered species. They didn’t mention research looking at how the turbines might affect salmon spawning, or migration patterns of salmon and sharks. They looked only in the immediate area around the turbines.

Quote: "“There's an understanding that [tidal devices] may pose some level of risk to marine life. And really, that risk needs to be considered against the very clear risk from the effects of climate change,” she said.

Well, no. There's no reason to not look after both. I'm so sick by now of this business of "weighing" benefits of technologies against human and other animal health and general welfare.

I even wonder if it's just an excuse, in this case: there are very wealthy carbon concerns in the area, and I'll just bet they contribute enough $$ to elect quite a few politicians.

Test.

"The industry is well aware of the setbacks, said Lindsay Bennett, executive director at FORCE. She describes the state of tidal being where wind and solar were 10 to 15 years ago but stresses that it’s an energy source worth pursuing.”

Statistics show this statement of the historical record is complete bollocks (unless, perhaps, speaking only of the parochial context of Nova Scotia. And why would one do that? Did NS have any installed wind turbines 15 years ago?)

In 2008 (15 years ago) global wind capacity exceeded 55 GW.
https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/cumulative-installed-wind-energy-capa...

In 2013 (10 years ago), capacity additions to each of the global wind and solar fleets were, roughly, 35 GW. That’s just the increment to existing capacity. Those annual increments have only increased since.
https://www.iea.org/reports/renewables-2020/renewable-electricity-2

In 2016, the global tidal energy capacity was 1GW and change.
https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-markets/market-snapsho...

As of March 2023, “The Annapolis Tidal Station is currently the only tidal power generating station in North America. Built in 1984, it has 20 MW of generating capacity”

https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-markets/provincial-ter...

Why is this important? Because the energy transition is only going to be slowed by blinkered, self-interested balderdash that reporters don’t challenge.

Q: Hydro Quebec is exporting sizeable quantities of electricity to the USA. Why is it, together with NF, not supplying the bulk of the Maritimes' electricity?