Company says tidal power getting closer, but challenges remain

Manager Jeremy Poste (centre) explains tidal project at open house last fall

Manager Jeremy Poste (centre) explains tidal project at open house last fall

The manager of Canadian operations for the French-owned tidal developer OpenHydro has reaffirmed that the first of two turbines will be lowered into the turbulent Bay of Fundy waters near Parrsboro this spring.

“The final assembly on the two Cape Sharp turbines is underway and the first one is scheduled to be deployed this spring as planned,” Jeremy Poste said in a statement read Thursday at a public meeting in Parrsboro. (Poste himself could not attend the meeting for personal reasons.)

Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., which is a partnership between OpenHydro and the Nova Scotia-based utility company Emera Inc., originally planned to  deploy at least one of its turbines last fall, but postponed the operation after announcing that the assembly of the first turbine in Pictou, N.S. had taken longer than expected.

Installation of turbines at the Black Rock site has been repeatedly delayed since 2009 when all 12 blades on a huge OpenHydro turbine were wrecked by the tides within 20 days of deployment.

Since then, politicians and developers have repeatedly issued optimistic forecasts, only to see deadlines pass. See my previous reporting on why commercial tidal power is still a long way off.

High costs

If developers do manage to generate power from the tidal test site near Parrsboro, they will be paid 53 cents per kilowatt hour, a rate that is more than three times what Nova Scotia homeowners are now paying for electricity.

Matt Lumley

Matt Lumley

At Thursday’s meeting, a spokesman for the non-profit Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) which is overseeing the Parrsboro test site, acknowledged that in the long-term, tidal power could not compete with other sources of energy if rates were to remain that high.

“Consumers will not pay 53 cents,” Matt Lumley said later during an interview. He added, however,  that consumers might be willing to pay a premium rate for the development of a tidal industry if any increases in overall rates are held to no more than two per cent.

The Nova Scotia government has promised it won’t allow the development of tidal power to increase power rates by more than two per cent.

“The gamble that the province is taking is that you and I can stomach two per cent if we go, ‘Oh, two per cent, but we’re going to have tidal energy here, OK,'” Lumley said. “But if you exceed two per cent, we’re going to start to whine.”

He added that as tidal developers pay their initial capital costs and prove that their turbine technologies can work in the Bay of Fundy, rates should start to fall just as they did with solar power in Ontario.

In the meantime, those who attended Thursday’s meeting heard once again about the potential for harnessing Fundy’s tides.

“We’ve been very strongly adamant that this project needs to serve the 450,000 ratepayers of Nova Scotia who are footing the bill for it,” said Kris MacLellan, Energy Project Coordinator for Minas Energy, a Nova Scotia-based company that is also hoping to test tidal turbines at the FORCE site near Parrsboro.

“Unlike some of the other tidal projects around the world, we are a small province, we don’t have 30 million ratepayers like in the United Kingdom,” he said, adding however, that the team at FORCE is making the Minas Passage into “the highest capacity tidal power site on the planet.”

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