Nova Scotia ushers in ‘new era’ of tidal energy as protesters warn ‘turbines kill fish’

NS Energy Minister, Michel Samson flips switch to send tidal power onto electricity grid

NS Energy Minister Michel Samson (centre) poses after flipping switch to send tidal power onto the grid. On the left, Tony Wright, Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy and Nancy Tower, Emera Inc. On the right, Thierry Kalanquin, OpenHydro

It’s official. Electricity is now flowing onto Nova Scotia’s power grid from a newly installed 2MW tidal turbine submerged in the Bay of Fundy.

The provincial energy minister, Michel Samson flipped a big electrical switch today near Parrsboro, NS to mark the beginning of what government and tidal industry officials hope will be a new era in marine renewable energy.

“Tidal energy packs huge potential for our province — as an economic driver, an expertise-builder and as a clean energy source for Canada and beyond,” Samson said a few minutes before the switch-flipping ceremony.

He was speaking at the $1.3 million visitor centre operated by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), the non-profit corporation that oversees the tidal test site in the Minas Passage.

However, a few kilometres away at the edge of the muddy road leading to the centre, a small group of protesters erected signs declaring “Turbines Kill Fish” and “Bay of Fundy is a Food Source not Power Source.”

High tides, high hopes

For government and tidal industry officials, today’s ceremonies marked the hopeful beginning of a new era of “clean, green” energy after years of frustration and delay following the destruction of the first OpenHydro turbine in 2009.

At the time, OpenHydro was an Irish company, but was later acquired by the giant French naval manufacturer, DCNS.

In 2014, the now-French-owned OpenHydro, joined with Emera Inc., parent company of Nova Scotia Power, to form Cape Sharp Tidal Inc.

Poster lists tidal benefits

One of the backdrop posters on display during today’s speeches

The installation of the first Cape Sharp Tidal turbine two weeks ago and the confirmation that the turbine is generating power lent a celebratory tone to today’s ceremonies.

Officials spoke to the assembled TV cameras amid backdrops proclaiming the economic and environmental benefits of tidal turbines.

Nancy Tower, Emera’s corporate development officer said that so far, 300 Nova Scotia companies have been involved in supplying the Cape Sharp tidal project with more than 300 people working on it.

“Would we like to put more turbines in the Bay one day?” Tower asked. “Yes, we would, but not at the expense of things that matter to coastal communities or to the livelihoods that depend on it.”

Tower added that Emera is committed to safeguarding the Bay of Fundy.

“We’re working with leading scientists, universities and companies to balance energy creation with protecting the oceans and marine life,” she said.

Thierry Kalanquin, Chair of OpenHydro, asserted that sensors on the test turbine will demonstrate that it will have “absolutely no environmental impact, zero.”

He also acknowledged that after the testing phase, the company is hoping to deploy many more turbines.

“Of course it will take time, and we will do it in a safe way at the pace of environmental development,” he said. “Not against nature, but with the nature.”

Protesters predict disaster

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Mike Dadswell (centre) and supporters speak to reporter during today’s protest

For the small group of protesters shivering in the zero-degree weather a few kilometres down the road, news that the Cape Sharp turbine was now generating electricity was hardly a cause for celebration.

Mike Dadswell, a retired Acadia University biology professor said he’s been studying the disastrous effects of turbines on marine life for decades including the one at Annapolis Royal where it’s not hard to find headless fish.

He said the Cape Sharp turbine is a similar design and will have similar effects.

“If they want to deploy a tidal energy device, they better learn to do it without using 140-year-old technology,” he said adding that the axial-flow-dynamic-lift turbine dates from the 19th century.

“That’s all this is,” he said. “Just like Annapolis, just like in all the dams around here that have destroyed salmon runs, you name it. That’s what the power people use because the technology is tried and true.”

When asked about the need to stop generating power with fossil fuels like coal and switch to green, renewable sources such as tidal, Dadswell responded that tidal energy isn’t really green at all.

“It’s more red as far as I’m concerned, the red of the fish that are going to be chopped up and the porpoises and all the rest of it,” he said.

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Sackville municipal workers’ union asks for conciliation as talks with town reach standstill

sackville_town-hallWages, other monetary items and seniority appear to be some of the stumbling blocks in stalled labour negotiations between the Town of Sackville and its 34 unionized inside and outside workers.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has asked the provincial government to appoint a conciliator after the union felt that negotiations had reached an impasse last month.

“We did not expect this much difficulty in reaching an agreement,” says Marcos Salib, the CUPE national representative involved in the negotiations.

He points out that the collective agreement expired on December 31, 2015, almost a year ago, and adds that it’s been difficult getting negotiating dates from the town. The 11 days of talks held so far were spread out over intervals of two or three months.

“We had a round [of bargaining] in September and we were certainly very clear with the employer, ‘Listen we want to get a deal done so hopefully when we have our next round, we should be able to conclude it,'” he says, adding that the talks reached a standstill after the town seemed unwilling to modify its proposals.

Seniority issue

Salib says one of the issues involves seniority for temporary workers in the CUPE bargaining unit. (Local 1188 consists of 27 full-time workers and seven part-time ones.)

He explains that the town wants to eliminate seniority as one of the required considerations when a temporary worker applies for a permanent position.

“Basically, sometimes people come in on a temporary basis, perform the duties of a job and then acquire experience and seniority, but they [the town] would not want that seniority to count at all for promotions or permanent positions,” he says.

“So somebody could do the job for two, three years and all of a sudden the job becomes available permanently, ‘Oops sorry, we’re deciding to pick an external applicant.'”

Town mum on talks

At last Monday’s town council meeting, Councillor Bill Evans presented a personnel report that gave little information about the negotiations other than to say: “Unfortunately, the Union has withdrawn from the negotiation table and has filed for conciliation with the Province. The Town remains hopeful that we  will be able to resume negotiations soon in [an] effort to reach a negotiated settlement.”

When Councillor Bruce Phinney asked for information about the main issues at the bargaining table, Evans responded that town staff had discussed those issues with councillors at a private, in-camera meeting that Phinney did not attend.

When Phinney said, “I’m asking now,” Evans seemed exasperated, saying that perhaps Phinney could ask him the question at an in-camera meeting.

Later, in response to a reporter’s question about which outstanding issues led the union to ask for help from a conciliator, CAO Phil Handrahan said: “The parties are interested in settling through the labour relations process either at the table and/or conciliation as opposed to trying to negotiate through — with all due respect — the media and the public.”

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Sackville treasurer defends cost of running new town hall

Sackville Town Hall and Fire Station

Sackville Town Hall, fire station and RCMP detachment

Sackville’s treasurer has released a report showing that the new town hall appears to be much more expensive to run than the three old buildings it replaced.

Michael Beal’s figures reveal that the average annual cost of oil, natural gas and electricity over the last three years in the new town hall was just over $90,000.

By comparison,  the average annual cost of these same utilities for the old buildings amounted to just over $32,000 in the years 2008 through 2011.

The old buildings included the former fire hall, former municipal police building and the former town hall.

The new $13 million town hall, which opened in 2012, combines municipal government and emergency fire and police services under one roof.

Taj Mahal

Sackville resident Keith Carter says he’s been pressing the town to release the figures for the last three years.

He argues they prove that the new building has been too costly with too much wasted space.

“We didn’t need a Taj Mahal,” Carter says. “One of their big things when they were talking about it before was to lower their carbon footprint, or whatever you call it, and that it was going to be cheaper. That was the original thing. Well now, we find out that it’s not. It’s more expensive to have it.”

During Monday’s council meeting, Treasurer Beal acknowledged that the new town hall does use more utilities, but the usage falls within the projections when the building was being constructed during 2010 and 2011.

“The key is though, we have a larger facility than we had at the three other facilities and with that comes larger utilities costs,” Beal said.

His report says a larger building was needed to alleviate overcrowding of both staff and equipment at the old locations, a point he reiterated Monday night.

“We do have a much larger facility, one that the fire trucks fit in, one that has RCMP cells that are up to standards and [the] council chamber is larger than the other facility,” he said.

Beal added that without the many energy-saving features that were incorporated into the new building’s design, utility costs would have been 40 per cent higher today especially since fuel and electricity prices have been rising steadily.

He also pointed out that the RCMP rural detachment, formerly housed in a building on Union Street, is now incorporated within the new town hall and that RCMP rent covers about a quarter of the building’s utility costs.

However Carter, who ran for mayor in 2012, is far from convinced.

He says previous councils wanted a grand Taj Mahal as their legacy for the town.

“They don’t care what it’s going to cost and that’s the problem we had with the councils before and this one’s not a whole lot better [although] they are starting to listen a little bit.”

To read Treasurer Beal’s report on utility costs click here.

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Sackville councillors vote to tighten security at town hall

Deputy Mayor O'Neil broke the tie

Deputy Mayor O’Neil cast tie-breaking vote

By a narrow vote of four to three, Sackville council has approved the installation of a $7,800 glass and metal barrier around the front desk at the new town hall.

Councillors Ron Aiken, Bill Evans and Megan Mitton voted for the security barrier while Andrew Black, Allison Butcher and Bruce Phinney voted against it. Deputy Mayor Joyce O’Neil broke the tie with her vote in favour.

Mayor John Higham and Councillor Michael Tower were absent from Monday’s meeting.

“There has been some serious times here that our staff have really felt threatened and Lord forbid anything would ever happen to them,” O’Neil said in explaining her tie-breaking vote. “I know it’s a lot of money but I still feel I have to for the safety of the staff, I have to vote in favour of it.”

Councillor Black said he had received an e-mail from one constituent and heard from others opposing the barrier. He added that the front desk area has been a welcoming space where people can come to talk and even air their grievances.

“I think that it’s somewhat of a waste of money as well,” Black said. “If you look at banks in town and other places that have an open counter for people to talk to, yes there are those moments where you have to deal with irate customers or problematic issues, but it would take somebody pretty strong to come in and try to do anything at the front counter when there’s an RCMP office in the basement,” he added.

Staff feel unsafe

Treasurer Michael Beal said there have been times when front counter staff did not feel safe and the RCMP had recommended installing security windows similar to the ones the police themselves have in their detachment downstairs.

Beal explained that staff will be able to open the barrier in two ways. One glass slider will allow them to accept packages.

“The second one will raise up and will be eye-level, face-level with the customer,” he said, “but in the event that they do not feel safe or there’s an issue, they can still communicate through a voice amplifier that’s in another window.”

The Nova Scotia firm that will be installing the barrier will also add $2,500 worth of six-millimetre-thick glass to prevent sound from leaking out of CAO Phil Handrahan’s office into a hallway.

With the 15 per cent HST added, the total bill for enhanced security will come to $11,845.

Councillor Evans said he supported the front desk barrier for one compelling reason.

“A staff member can regularly find herself alone [at town hall] whereas in a bank or other institution, there are lots of other people around.”

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Study plumbing at Mt. A? Not anytime soon

Robert Inglis

Robert Inglis

Mount Allison’s vice-president of finance has assured Sackville Town Council that the university has no plans to offer training in the skilled trades as a way of boosting student enrolment.

Robert Inglis was responding to a question from Deputy Mayor Joyce O’Neil during last Monday’s town council meeting.

“I was just wondering, did the university ever think of sort of changing, adding the concept to your education in, sort of like, trades?” O’Neil asked. “Say like maybe offering for plumbing and electrical, that type of stuff?”

O’Neil’s question seemed to catch Inglis by surprise.

“I think, uhm, I think we’ll, we have not,” he replied, then said that the university is already pursuing the concept of experiential learning.

“Obviously a trade is experiential learning,” Inglis said, but added that Mount Allison already offers a lot of it in its academic programs.

“Our science students just don’t learn science, they do science. Our commerce students do business and learn about business. Our arts and social sciences students engage in activities, not just learn about it,” he said.

Student numbers declining

O’Neil’s question came after Inglis made a 16-minute presentation to council in which he noted that New Brunswick’s four publicly funded universities depend on two main sources of income: provincial government grants and student tuition fees.

“All four universities have seen a decline in enrolment,” he said, with the numbers down from around 17,000 undergraduate students four years ago to about 15,500 now.

He added, however, that Mount Allison is holding its own when it comes to attracting first year students. This year’s enrolment of 641 is down slightly from previous years, but still within Mount Allison’s budget projections, he said.

Total enrolment at Mt. A. this year is around 2,150.

Inglis said that all universities in the Maritimes are affected by declining numbers of high school graduates. By next year, there will be 10 per cent fewer 18-24-year-olds in New Brunswick than there were in 2012.

However, he noted that students at Mt. A. come from a wide range of places, with 39 per cent from New Brunswick, 23 per cent from Nova Scotia, 29 per cent from the rest of Canada and nine per cent from between 30 and 40 countries around the world.

Posted in Mount Allison University, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sackville councillors set to tighten security at Town Hall

sackville_town-hallResidents who visit Sackville Town Hall to pay water bills or conduct other business may soon be talking to the front desk clerk through holes in a $7,800 glass partition.

At their meeting Monday night, councillors heard that the aluminum and tempered glass barrier is needed for greater security.

“We’re not looking at bullet-proof glass or anything like that,” said Treasurer Michael Beal.

“We are looking at securing the front counter so that it is preventable from somebody being able to jump over the front counter, somebody being able to reach over the front counter if the person has left the front desk.”

Beal also told council he’s proposing to spend an additional $2,500 to install six-millimetre-thick laminated glass to prevent sound from leaking out of CAO Phil Handrahan’s office into a hallway.

He explained that the present glass wall does not block sound effectively enough and people can hear what’s being said during private meetings in the CAO’s office.

If councillors approve the proposed security measures at their next meeting on Nov. 14, the $10,300 contract would be awarded to the lowest bidder, Division 8 Architectural Glass and Aluminum of Elmsdale, N.S.

Staff intimidation

Councillor Black asked if any specific incident at the front desk had led to the recommendation to increase security there.

“There’s no one specific incident or issue that has happened,” Beal replied, “but we do handle money at the front desk on a regular basis, there are times when there have been aggravated people that do come in.”

Beal said the enhanced security measures have been under consideration for the last couple of years.

“A lot of times we have staff working there at lunch time alone as well, and when they’re working there alone, they may be the only person in the building.”

Beal acknowledged, however, that the glass partition would be “less user-friendly.”

“When we moved in the building, we attempted an open concept with it and what we’re looking at now is making things more safe and secure,” he said.

CAO Handrahan added there have been occasions when front-desk staff have been intimidated by people in front of the counter.

“There have been at least a couple of situations where I called the RCMP to come up on account of the activity that was going on up here,” he said.

“Society is changing unfortunately so it was felt for the safety of employees and things the treasurer has mentioned, that it was something that needed to be done,” he concluded.

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Sackville councillors hear student pitch against Energy East pipeline

Claire Neufeld and Will Balser outside Council Chamber

Claire Neufeld and Will Balser outside Council Chamber

Environmental studies students from Mount Allison University attempted to persuade Sackville Town Council Monday night to oppose construction of the Energy East pipeline.

The students are conducting their campaign against the pipeline as part of an environmental activism course taught by Professor Brad Walters.

If it eventually wins federal approval, the proposed pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands to an Irving Oil terminal in Saint John.

“The Energy East pipeline will lead to a 40 per cent increase in tar sands production directly contributing to climate change, which as we all know here in Sackville, contributes directly to increased storm surge and more frequent flooding,” student Will Balser told council.

He noted that last April, council adopted an adaptation plan in recognition of the town’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change and that council has also been active in promoting environmental sustainability as one of its main goals.

Show leadership

Balser asked councillors to pass a motion opposing construction of the Energy East pipeline.

“This is a real chance for Sackville to show leadership and set a precedent among municipalities in New Brunswick and in Canada,” he said.

Earlier, fellow student Claire Neufeld told council the $15 billion that would be spent on the pipeline could be better spent on alternative energy projects that create more jobs.

When Mayor Higham suggested that the tax on carbon proposed by the federal government could change the economics of the pipeline project, Balser responded that the students campaigning against the pipeline don’t want to make Energy East economically viable.

He added that the pipeline would not be environmentally viable since leaks could threaten drinking water and expose Canadians to the toxic chemicals that are added so that bitumen will flow freely.

When the mayor noted that the CN Rail line passes through Sackville and expressed concern that railways could be required to carry the oil if the pipeline isn’t built, Balser suggested that increased tar sands production would not happen without Energy East.

“Under our current rail system, there is no way to move that much oil,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you invest in rail, there will be no way to move this much oil.”

No-brainer

For his part, Councillor Bill Evans expressed strong support for the students.

“This to me is a no-brainer,” he said adding that we’re doomed if we consume the known tar sands reserves.

“We have to cut back on our consumption of oil now, we need to encourage the use of renewables, this is what we have to start doing. Anything that we do that is not consistent with that is stupid, wrong, irrational,” Evans said.

He promised to consult with his colleagues on council before moving a motion opposing Energy East.

“Spending $15 billion on something that you shouldn’t be doing is just a dumb thing to do,” he said.

The students, who are part of a seven-member group called Sackville, No Energy East, plan to attend council’s regular meeting next Monday to see if councillors pass a motion to oppose Energy East.

For earlier coverage, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments