A day after Cape Sharp Tidal Inc. announced that its underwater turbine has broken down and its blades are no longer turning, fisherman Darren Porter spotted a yellow object at the water’s edge near the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), which oversees the Black Rock tidal test site in the Minas Passage.
“My daughter dragged it up the beach so it wouldn’t float away,” Porter said. “God knows where it would have been tonight.”
Porter reported his discovery to FORCE, the Nova Scotia Department of Energy, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and various news outlets including this one.
A few hours later, Lindsay Bennett, business operations manager at FORCE, confirmed Porter’s suspicion that the object was a sea pod which houses a cluster of environmental monitoring instruments.
“Darren Porter located and recovered a piece of marine mammal monitoring equipment that is used as part of FORCE’s regular site-level environmental effects monitoring program,” Bennett wrote in an e-mail, adding that it was one of five “instrument packages” that were recently deployed.
“All monitoring instruments on the recovered package appear to be in working order,” Bennett wrote, “however, we’ll assess for and perform any required maintenance and redeploy as soon as possible.”
Her e-mail ended on a reassuring note.
“This happens occasionally with this type of equipment, especially in a high flow environment like the Minas Passage.”
During a telephone interview, Porter, a long-time critic of FORCE and spokesman for the fisherman’s group Fundy United Federation, reacted scornfully to Bennett’s message.
“Nothing to see here, it’s no big deal,” he said of her reassurances. “FORCE is literally a farce,” Porter added. “You can’t even make this up.”
He said that if the sea pod had floated away with the tides, FORCE wouldn’t have known it was gone until the time came for its retrieval weeks or months from now.
Porter’s discovery of the monitoring gear came the day after Cape Sharp Tidal Inc. said a team of technical experts from OpenHydro headquarters in Ireland discovered the submerged turbine has broken down and its blades are no longer turning.
“The turbine operated as expected immediately after deployment in July,” the Cape Sharp statement said. “They (the team of experts) believe an internal component failure in the generator caused sufficient damage to prevent the rotor from turning.”
The company statement goes on to say the team will analyze information from sensors on the turbine to determine whether it “could be functional.”
In the meantime, Cape Sharp says environmental monitoring devices on the turbine are now working.
Government regulators require the company to monitor the turbine’s effects on fish and other sea creatures, but the sensors that are supposed to do that were disconnected shortly after deployment when turbine maker OpenHydro ran out of money and lost the financial support of its French parent company.
Since August, OpenHydro has been moving towards bankruptcy with another court hearing scheduled for next month in Dublin. To read earlier coverage of the financial aspects of the story, click here.
Meantime, Darren Porter noticed FORCE’s yellow sea pod when he was on his boat conducting a lobster survey that started last year in connection with Big Moon Canada’s plans to generate tidal power on the north side of the Blomidon Peninsula near Cape Split. To read earlier coverage of the Big Moon project, click here.
Porter says the study is aimed at understanding the presence, abundance and movements of lobster in parts of the Minas Basin that could be affected by Big Moon. It involves fitting some lobsters with tiny transmitters that help track their movements and others with tags containing information that can be reported when the lobsters are caught.
Porter also sets traps to catch lobsters in order to count them and record biological information such as their sex and whether their shells are hard or soft.
He says he’s noticed that traps set in the Minas Passage produce large numbers of lobsters, sometimes as many as 35 in a single trap.
“There’s no doubt why fishermen are upset about tidal turbines in the Minas Passage,” Porter says. “It’s the most lucrative piece of lobster fishing ground in the province,” he adds, pointing out that lobsters are Nova Scotia’s largest and most valuable export.
“Lobsters are our true renewable resource,” he says.