No one taking responsibility for monitoring abandoned tidal turbine

View from the FORCE visitor centre webcam overlooking the Black Rock tidal test site

As the blades continue to turn on an abandoned tidal turbine in the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage, no one seems willing to ensure there is monitoring of their possible effects on fish and other sea creatures.

On Friday, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) denied it’s responsible for environmental monitoring close to the turbine even though the not-for-profit corporation is legally required as leaseholder to oversee the test site where the turbine was deployed on July 22nd.

Melissa Oldreive, who speaks for FORCE, said in an e-mail that Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., not FORCE, is responsible for monitoring near its turbine and for implementing a contingency plan to replace its environmental sensors which aren’t working.

“We are urging for the implementation of the approved program or contingency plans as soon as possible,” she wrote.

However, Cape Sharp is in financial disarray with one partner, OpenHydro, facing possible bankruptcy and the other partner, Emera Inc., seeking to walk away from the company.

Oldreive said that FORCE has undertaken “a vessel-based hydroacoustic fish survey, which involves measuring fish distribution and densities around the turbine,” but she also confirmed that neither Cape Sharp nor FORCE has deployed an underwater platform equipped with sensors near it.

The sensor platform, known as FAST-EMS, was supposed to have been deployed 30 metres from the turbine by August 10 under a contingency plan approved by regulators at the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment (NSE) and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The platform is designed to be connected by cable to shore-based computers to provide continuous monitoring of what’s happening near the turbine.

Earlier this year, the regulators warned both FORCE and Cape Sharp to improve environmental monitoring at the site assigning FORCE overall responsibility for ensuring that such monitoring is carried out properly.

To read the letters from NSE and DFO, click here.

In April, FORCE spokesman Matt Lumley said in an e-mail response to my questions that FORCE understood its new responsibilities, although he also wrote that Cape Sharp was developing a contingency plan for monitoring around the turbine.

To read Lumley’s e-mail response, click here.

Before deployment of the turbine, Cape Sharp and FORCE signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining their respective responsibilities for deployment of the FAST-EMS platform, but Oldreive says she can’t reveal what’s in the MOU because “we keep contractual arrangements private.”

‘Complete debacle’

FORCE’s refusal to accept responsibility for underwater monitoring near the turbine comes as no surprise to Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job last December.

“There’s no question, they are responsible for the overall monitoring,” McPhee said in a telephone interview from her home in Parrsboro.

She added that previously, FORCE interpreted monitoring requirements to give itself the least amount of responsibility until the regulators stepped in.

“Finally this year, the regulators said, ‘No, you are responsible for all levels, like in some way you have to be responsible because if it’s within the site, you’re the leaseholder, so you need to be responsible within that space,'” McPhee said.

“They (FORCE) are being allowed by the regulators presently to duck this and it is a complete debacle, it is an embarrassment to the (government) policymakers and to the people who have worked hard on this project,” she said.

She added she decided to resign after more than six years at FORCE partly because of her concern that managers there weren’t serious enough about protecting the marine environment.

“What I felt were basic standards and what FORCE feels are basic standards are very different things,” she said. “I could no longer be part of that because it was beginning to affect my reputation.”

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3 Responses to No one taking responsibility for monitoring abandoned tidal turbine

  1. Gordon Heffler says:

    So here, “we the people” “we the taxpayers” “we the Emera customers who receive monthly or bi-monthly bills for electricity” “we the fishermen of Fundy” and “we the provincial and federal election voters” are left holding what?…..A bag of air or maybe water as these rats jump off the ship in all directions! Well if the Feds and/or the MacNeil “provincials” and/or the courts cannot or do not step in to arrest this giant pig laying at the bottom of the Minas Channel and causing “who knows what?” to the environment…then it is fully high time to let your voice be heard to your “reps” and maybe also to let your feet and your votes do the talking for any inaction’s (many) that have allowed this to disintegrate to this “predictable from the start” state. We do not have years to wait around while this “thing” eats or electrocutes our fish…we have only weeks or a few months before winter! Hold these xxxxxxxs to the flame, and not just feet first only either. -Gordon Heffler

  2. Fred Harrison says:

    Nice work again Mr Wark ..A non performance bond would seem to be standard with this unique project …If regulaters dropped thé ball then there are self made problems……………..Company fails, bond kicks in , damage funded and corrective action done, leaving the air clear for the project to have life…………,Too logical ?

  3. Jamie Ross P.Eng. says:

    The shame is that it’s not that much work to monitor and operate the turbine once it’s deployed. I had the pleasure of working with Mary who made occasional forays to the control room to reboot computers. As far as maintenance, the turbine is designed to operate for 5 years without maintenance so there is no immediate danger. They should really assemble a small team to get the system back online, and I think the province should buy it cheap as a research tool.

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