Cape Sharp: tidal turbine generated little power, but was a success; FORCE: expanding test site makes sense

Cape Sharp turbine on deployment barge Scotia Tide, Nov. 2016

Cape Sharp Tidal sold only 41.4 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to Nova Scotia Power last year, enough to power the equivalent of about four homes, far short of the 500 the company claimed when it first deployed the turbine in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro.

“Nova Scotia homes and businesses are now powered by North America’s first in-stream tidal turbine,” Cape Sharp said in a news release issued in November 2016. “The demonstration turbine—designed and manufactured by OpenHydro—uses a fraction of the estimated 7,000 MW potential of the Minas Passage to power the equivalent of about 500 Nova Scotia homes with energy from our tides,” the news release added.

However, Stacey Pineau, who speaks for Cape Sharp, said in an e-mail to The New Wark Times that in spite of its low power generation, the turbine deployment was a success.

“We’re still the first and only developer to successfully deploy a tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy and connect it to the Nova Scotia power grid,” she wrote. “That’s a big achievement.”

She said the turbine produced a total of 111 MWh between January and late March 2017, but nearly two-thirds of that power was required to energize the transmission line that connected the turbine to an on-shore electrical substation and to provide heat and light at the substation.

“The amount of electricity the turbine generated during this period was limited as we tested the system in different conditions and tidal cycles – we were not focused on maximizing power output,” Pineau wrote.

The Cape Sharp turbine was pulled from the water on June 15 and moved to Saint John Harbour where it has been undergoing repairs to its Turbine Control Centre, a school-bus-sized unit that transforms electricity produced by the generator into alternating current compatible with the power grid.

Pineau said the company is still on track to deploy a second turbine in the Minas Passage this summer, while the recovered turbine undergoes a detailed inspection of its interior.

“Our focus now is on continuing to fine tune the next turbine and its monitoring equipment based on everything we have learned so far,” she added.

FORCE tidal berths empty

FORCE visitor centre near Parrsboro

With the Cape Sharp turbines out of the water, all five berths at the FORCE test site in the Minas Passage are empty with no immediate plans for deployments by other tidal companies.

Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job in December, says the lack of activity raises questions about the future of the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy.

“It’s more important now than ever that the public asks questions about what’s going on,” McPhee says adding that FORCE’s managers have isolated themselves in Halifax and are not engaging with communities and fishers affected by the tidal industry.

Nor do they seem to care, she says, that small communities such as Parrsboro aren’t benefitting more from tidal projects.

McPhee, who worked at the FORCE centre near Parrsboro for more than six years, says she’s also concerned about the lack of adequate environmental monitoring in the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage.

“I will be heartbroken, if in two to five years, FORCE closes down and becomes a waste of taxpayers’ money,” McPhee says.

FORCE responds

Matt Lumley, who speaks for FORCE, says he agrees with McPhee that Parrsboro needs to benefit more from tidal activity.

“Over time, it makes sense that the FORCE project, and berth holder activity, will be more based on the site,” Lumley writes in an e-mail.

He adds that although FORCE has consistently hired students for summer jobs and Nova Scotia community college graduates have been spending more and more time there, tidal deployments have been slow to get going.

“And that’s really the engine that will drive all activity and employment and spin-off on site,” Lumley writes.

FORCE site expansion?

Power cable installation at FORCE site, Dec. 2015

Lumley says it would make sense if small-scale developers put their devices in the water adjacent to the FORCE site at Black Rock.

The FORCE site has its own transmission line connected to the grid.

The Nova Scotia government has  invited tidal developers to seek permits for small-scale projects of up to five megawatts (MW) in the Bay of Fundy or Cape Breton’s Bras d’Or Lakes. The small-scale projects would be limited to a total of 10MW.

Lumley writes that FORCE regularly talks to developers around the world.

“We’ve heard increased interest from a number of companies following the province’s announcement in October that up to 10 megawatts may be available in Nova Scotia under new demonstration permits,” he says. “Several have been public about their interest in Nova Scotia.”

However, the thought of expansion at the FORCE site beyond the five berths that are already there, angers Darren Porter, a weir fisherman who speaks for the Fundy United Federation, a group that represents about 100 fishers.

Porter points out that the area is a prime lobster fishing ground that has already been disrupted by the tidal industry.

He says it makes no sense to expand the FORCE site and put more test turbines in the Minas Passage where it’s practically impossible to gauge their effects.

“They should go some place where we can actually determine the effect of these machines in clearer water and in an environment that can be monitored,” he says.

“If they go and take up that whole Black Rock area,” Porter warns, “it’s going to be war.”

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Sackville councillors approve $76.5k in community grants

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Sackville Town Council awarded $76,500 in community development grants to more than three dozen groups and organizations on Monday, but it wasn’t unanimous.

Councillor Bruce Phinney voted no saying he disagreed with some of the grants and felt that town staff should not have made the decision on which groups qualified and how much they should get.

“Nothing against staff, but I really feel that actually should have been left in the hands of the Treasurer…and a councillor,” Phinney said.

“I know I did it for years and I think it worked out fairly well,” he added. “That way, some people wouldn’t think that oh, that’s being given because one of maybe the managers might be associated to one of the groups.”

Phinney’s objection was not shared by other councillors who spoke in favour of the new grants policy adopted in 2015 by a previous council and first implemented in 2016.

“I just want to say kudos to staff on doing this project,” said Councillor Michael Tower. “This is not an easy one to do, council struggled long enough and it seems like you guys have now found a good system and it looks like a fairly fair one indeed.”

Tower also praised the new system when council first discussed the grants at its earlier meeting on February 5th.

At that meeting, Councillor Bill Evans said he, too, was grateful that staff were implementing the new policy.

“I’m with Mike (Tower),” Evans said. “If we start getting into that individually as councillors, then the wheels fall off,” he added. “I appreciate the effort that staff have done according to the criteria that council has approved, and so I’m prepared to accept this and support the recommendation with thanks.”

Grant categories

The grants are awarded in four categories: operational grants, special events and projects grants, small capital grants that help with one-time building projects or equipment purchases and smaller sponsorship grants.

The largest operational grant of $8,000 went this year to Sackville Minor Hockey with Live Bait Theatre receiving $7,500, the Sackville Skating Club, $5,250 and the Sackville Swim Club, $5,000.

Rural Rides, the non-profit group offering out-of-town transportation for medical appointments and grocery shopping received an operational grant of $2,000.

In the Special Events/Projects category, the largest grants went to Sappyfest ($4,000), the Centre for Artistic Achievement ($3,000) and the Sackville Music Festival ($1,200).

The Marshview Middle School received a $3,000 small capital grant for improvements in a space used by community groups. Other small capital grants included $2,000 to the Sackville Golf Club and $1,500 to Sackville Minor Football.

There were only two sponsorship grants, $250 to Musa Betsu-Kyu Judo Club and $250 to the Sackville Farmers Market, which also received a $1,000 special events grant.

To view a complete list of 2018 grants, click here.

NOTE: The 2018 grants represent 0.7 per cent of the town’s operating budget. Previous totals under the new grants policy were: $80,150 in 2016 and $76,250 in 2017. This year, town staff assessed a total of $138,980 in grant applications, awarding just over half of that total (55%).

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Sackville councillors say no to more student apartments on King St.

Residents opposed to another apartment building at 40 King St. (L-R) Margaret Hanson, William Sheppard, Pat Sheppard, Mary Ann Peters, Reg Hanson, Roland Cook

A small group of Sackville residents won a victory Monday night when Town Council voted against allowing more housing at 40 King Street where about 30 university students already live.

In a 5-3 vote, council rejected a rezoning application that would have permitted another three-storey building on the 1.5 acre site doubling the number of rental units to 12.

There are already six, five-bedroom units on the property, one in a dwelling that fronts on King Street and five more in an apartment building behind it.

Town planners recommended rezoning the property to permit another building, but during a 12 minute debate, all but two councillors spoke against it, siding with residents who complained during a public meeting last month about excessive noise, traffic congestion and even outdoor fires.

Student town vs residents’ town

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken acknowledged that the latest municipal plan sets targets for the development of more multiple unit residential housing, but in this case, he said, there are too many problems.

“All I can see is that somebody wants to add enough higher density to obviously make more money off rents,” Aiken said, “when the residents have already commented on the problems they’re having with the buildings.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney also acknowledged that the municipal plan encourages more apartment buildings, but sometimes projects “come forward that just don’t work within that plan and I think this is one of them.”

Phinney added that while residents have lived in the neighbourhood for a long time, “it seems that actually it’s becoming more of a student town than it is actually a resident town.”

Councillor Allison Butcher partly disagreed with Phinney, arguing that Sackville needs to be a community town that includes the university, but she also recognized residents’ complaints.

“There is, I think, lots of student housing now and I have some great concerns about the issues the present homeowners in that area have.”

Butcher also worried about harm to the environment with more apartments being built near a stream that flows beside the Sackville cemetery.

Not in my backyard

Existing 5-unit building at 40 King. The owner was proposing to add a 6 unit building on the property

Councillors Bill Evans and Megan Mitton argued strongly for the project, partly on the grounds that the municipal plan calls for a five per cent increase every year in multiple housing units and partly because it would add to the town’s tax base. (Evans estimated that the increase would be about one million dollars.)

He said that residents’ concerns would be met by conditions attached to the project, which include limiting it to no more than 12 units. Evans suggested that residents’ main opposition was simply that they didn’t want the project in their neighbourhood.

“Not In My Backyard [NIMBY] is an acronym because people regularly feel that way,” he said. “They’re not saying they’re against doing it at all, but they just don’t want it where they are. Our mandate as council is not to look after our backyard, but the whole municipality.”

Confusion over vote

Mayor Higham asked Councillor Andrew Black, who moved the motion giving preliminary approval to rezoning the property at 40 King Street, to conclude the debate.

Black surprised his council colleagues by siding with the residents opposed to more student housing, announcing that he would be voting against his own motion.

When Mayor Higham called for the vote, Councillors Evans and Mitton voted yes, while Deputy Mayor Aiken along with councillors Phinney, Butcher, O’Neil and Tower voted no. It only became clear later that Black had voted yes after all, making the final tally 5-3.

Residents react

Outside the council chamber, residents expressed relief that a majority of councillors had turned down more student housing at 40 King Street.

“It’s encouraging they’re actually listening to the residents instead of going for a quick money grab,” said William Sheppard, summing up the general reaction.

But several residents also objected to Councillor Evans’s contention that they simply didn’t want more student housing in their backyard.

“We didn’t say not in our neighbourhood,” Pat Sheppard said, “our neighbourhood is already suffering from too much student housing and the university enrollment is down,” she added.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, landlord Sean Doucet said council’s decision is OK with him.

“Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers with the neighbours and if that’s council’s decision, I’m fine with it…When you go through rezoning, you never know.”

Council debate on the rezoning motion begins just after the 21 minute mark on the video recording of the meeting. To watch it, click here.

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Indigenous historian urges scrapping investments in fossil fuels

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard on Mt. A. campus

The campaign to get Mount Allison University to pull its investments from big fossil fuel companies got a boost this week from a Lakota historian who helped lead the fight against an oil pipeline in North Dakota.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told about 100 people on the Mt. A. campus Wednesday night that one aim of the growing divestment movement is to take money from the big banks that finance oil and gas developments and return it to local communities.

“Right now, we are putting our money into these large banks who are investing across the world,” she said, “and I don’t know about you but I’ve been going through many communities and they are in dire straits.”

Allard urged audience members to put their money in local institutions such as credit unions.

“You know, a strong economic system is when your communities are strong,” she said. “Invest in your own communities.”

She drew applause when she mentioned New York City’s recent decision to withdraw pension fund investments from coal, oil and gas companies following similar moves in other U.S. cities including Seattle and San Francisco.

“The world is changing,” Allard said. “Everybody understands what’s happening around us. Have you looked?”

Killing the black snake

During her talk sponsored by the Mount Allison University library, Allard described the unsuccessful battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying graves near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and threatening water supplies. The $3.7 billion, 1,886 kilometre pipeline was being built under the nearby Missouri River.

Allard set up the Sacred Stone Camp on her property, a camp that attracted almost 100,000 visitors in 2016 including indigenous people from all over the world.

She mentioned an ancient Lakota prophecy about a black snake that would slither across the earth poisoning the water and destroying the world, a snake that many saw as the pipeline that would be carrying 470,000 barrels of crude oil each day to an oil terminal in southern Illinois.

“When the black snake comes to devour the world, we must stand up and stop it or the world will end,” Allard said.

The fight to stop the pipeline turned into a epic battle as those calling themselves water protectors eventually faced riot police armed with automatic rifles, water cannon, mace, concussion grenades, tasers and batons. Private security firms used dogs to attack people and as the struggle wore on, hundreds were arrested and some are facing lengthy jail sentences.

Allard said she grew up as a police officer’s daughter believing in law and order.

“I no longer believe the law is just,” she said.  “I don’t know what’s happening in America.”

Student members of Divest MTA meet with LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. (L-R) Lauren Latour, Hanna Longard, Tina Oh, Louis Sobol, LaDonna, Shannon Power

Water is life

Allard painted a grim picture of what she called “Mother Earth’s revenge” for the profligate burning of fossil fuels.

“Tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes, floods, storms,” she said, “animals going extinct everyday…why are we trying to kill ourselves?”

She added that since “water is life,” it’s impossible to live without it, yet we’re not protecting it.

She also referred to the struggle at Standing Rock.

“This is far from over,” she said, “they say LaDonna when are you done? When I dig up every pipeline from my homeland, that’s when I’m done,” she said.

“We are all in this together, there is only one Earth.”

To see the film Black Snake Killaz documenting the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, click here.

Posted in Environment, Mount Allison University | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Excavator digs hole in town budget

Sackville’s John Deere 2010 wheeled excavator with broken front axle

Sackville municipal officials have been scratching their heads over what to do about one of the town’s most heavily used pieces of equipment, a $300,000 excavator with a front axle that split wide open around the end of November.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton told councillors last night that a crack had appeared in the axle’s main housing a few months earlier.

“We were able to weld it once and then it split again,” he said. “We welded it a second time and got more months out of it.”

But a third welding job failed to hold.

“It literally let go and split wide open, beyond repairs.”

Unexpected failure

Acton said the 2010 machine should last for 10 years and therefore, there’s no money in this year’s budget to replace it.

And, spending $300,000 on a new excavator could mean putting off capital projects such as reconstructing a 300-metre section of Main Street from Dufferin to Queens Road. (The town has applied for provincial funding that would cover nearly half of the project’s $850,000 cost.)

In the end, Acton and Treasurer Michael Beal are recommending that, at its meeting next Monday, council approve spending $63,250 on a new, replacement axle.

“There was one axle in all of North America that would fit our machine and it’s in Mississippi,” Acton said, adding that they could find only two used excavators on the continent that matched the make and model of Sackville’s.

“We said, ‘well maybe we can get a used axle off of another machine for this one.’ Well, the one was $95,000 to buy the used piece of equipment, $95,000 U.S….the other one was $120,000 and it was out west.”

He and Beal considered renting an excavator but that would cost $7,000 to $9,000 a month, a hefty expenditure considering that the machine is used for up to eight months every year.

They also decided that contracting out digging jobs would be even more expensive.

A hole in the budget

Treasurer Michael Beal

Treasurer Beal said he’s not sure yet where the money for a replacement axle would come from. He suggested that the town could dip into the $80,000 it’s planning to transfer this year to a long-term reserve fund that will eventually pay for upgrading its sewage lagoons.

He added that there might be savings on other capital projects, although it’s too early to tell.

In the long term, he said, it’s better for the town to replace the excavator axle now and recover some of the money when the machine is traded in or auctioned off.

“If we sell this at auction in two to three years, we may reap back $25 to $50 to $75 thousand,” Beal said, “that we could then put back into the reserve fund, if we have to do that.”

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Mt. A. students again ask university governing board to shed investments in Big Oil

Louis Sobol and Tina Oh outside Board of Regents meeting

Students activists have again urged Mount Allison’s highest governing body to join a growing worldwide movement and withdraw the university’s investments from big fossil fuel companies.

“Do the right thing, be on the right side of history,” Louis Sobol of the group Divest MTA said to members of the university’s Board of Regents during a formal presentation today.

It was the first time in Mount Allison’s 179-year history that the Board has held one of its regular meetings in public.

Sobol told the Regents that most scientists agree an additional temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would cause sea levels to rise dramatically engulfing towns like Sackville that are close to the ocean.

“If the very destruction of the land on which you sit is not enough to provoke change,” he added, “let the millions of deaths in the global south and elsewhere that have already begun to occur, dwell on your conscience.”

Costs of a changing climate

Tina Oh, who has been an organizer with Divest MTA since 2015, pointed to the widespread destruction caused by hurricanes that devastated parts of the Caribbean last summer and that forced six million people in Florida to flee their homes, the largest mass migration in U.S. history.

“Last year was the hottest year ever to be recorded,” she said, adding that it broke records set in 2016 and 2015 creating ideal conditions for forest fires in British Columbia and Portugal along with monsoons that left parts of Bangladesh, Nepal and India under water.

“This is the new reality for life on our planet,” she said.

Specific requests

Oh asked the Board to appoint a special committee to study how various investment firms would handle divesting from fossil fuels and to compile a comprehensive report analyzing long-term options and costs.

She said that as part of its work, the committee should hold a town hall at Mount Allison to gather opinions on fossil fuel divestment that would also be submitted in a report to the Board of Regents before its next meeting in May.

Oh said both reports should be made public.

Finally, she asked the Board to hold a vote during its meeting in October “to either reject or accept fossil fuel divestment of Mount Allison University’s endowment fund.”

Later, Oh said between five and seven per cent of Mt. A’s endowment fund investments are in the top 500 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. For a complete list of the university’s endowment fund holdings, click here. To read a statement about Mt. A’s endowment fund investment policies, click here.

Board of Regents chair Ron Outerbridge thanked the students for their presentation and promised he would get back to them once the Board has a chance to discuss their requests. He explained afterwards that the discussion would not be happening today, but at a later date.

Birthmark tattoos 

Shannon Power (R) gets birthmark number 360 from tattoo artist Lou Van Aardt

After their presentation, the students adjourned to the student centre foyer outside the Board meeting where they staged a demonstration to call attention to the steadily rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Several students got tattoos showing the number in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the year they were born.

Shannon Power was born in 1995 when the level had reached 360 ppm, above the 350 ppm that some scientists consider a safe level. (That level was exceeded in 1988.)

Power said students of her generation have never known a time when climate change was not a threat to life on the planet.

Her words echoed Tina Oh’s earlier ones to the Board of Regents.

“The young people who are currently in this room were already born into a dying world,” she said.

“For young people,” Oh added, “climate change has always been the most pressing issue.”

For a report showing how Divest MTA fits into the campaign on campuses across Canada for fossil fuel divestment, click here.

Posted in Mount Allison University | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Economics professor predicts NB will lose money selling pot

University of Regina Economics Professor Jason Childs has studied the legalization of cannabis

An economics professor startled participants in a seminar at Mount Allison University on Friday when he pulled a $50 bill from his wallet and offered it to anyone who could get him one gram of marijuana within an hour.

A few hands went up when Professor Jason Childs from the University of Regina asked how many students or faculty members could meet that challenge and at least a couple of hands were raised when Childs asked who could buy him that gram within half an hour.

Childs was making the point that cannabis is readily available in Canada even though it will remain an illegal recreational drug at least until July.

“Anybody who wants it can get it now,” he said, adding studies show that 20 per cent of Canadians “are regular consumers of this illegal product.”

Illicit market won’t go away

Childs, who is one of the authors of an academic study on legalizing cannabis in Canada, predicts that the well-entrenched illicit market will pose a tough challenge for the provinces and territories that will begin overseeing sales of marijuana after the drug is legalized this summer.

The New Brunswick government has announced that legal cannabis will be available in up to 20 stand-alone stores run by NB Liquor in 15 communities across the province including Sackville. The stores will operate under the name CannabisNB.

“I don’t think the New Brunswick system is going to displace the illicit market,” Childs said. “One year from now my prediction is the illegal market will be happy and healthy.”

Price of pot a crucial factor

Although New Brunswick has yet to announce how much recreational cannabis will cost, Childs figures the government plans to sell it for $10 a gram after paying half that to acquire 13,000 kilograms each year from three suppliers.

He said the current price on the illicit market is about $6 per gram and while customers will probably be willing to pay more for high quality, safe cannabis, he doubts they would pay 40 per cent more.

“The illicit market is not going to disappear anytime soon,” he said, “and displacing it will be central to long-term success.”

Losing money selling drugs

Childs added that after factoring in labour and overhead costs and sharing tax revenues with the federal government, marijuana sales will be far from the golden goose that many politicians had hoped.

“I think it’s very, very likely the New Brunswick government will lose money selling drugs,” Childs said as seminar participants chuckled.

He added that the government may have to lower prices to compete, taking losses in a long-term effort to destroy the illicit market.

Childs said New Brunswick should have licensed a limited number of private stores to sell cannabis as Alberta is doing.

He argues that private retailers have more incentive than government-run stores to compete with the illicit market by keeping prices down and ensuring quality and variety.

“I’m very comfortable saying New Brunswick got it wrong. It’s going to go badly,” he said. “That’s not the way to run a business.”

Posted in Mount Allison University, New Brunswick government | Tagged | 2 Comments