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.
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
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.