Environment minister approves use of giant turbines in Bay of Fundy

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s environment minister has cleared the way for the installation of two giant turbines in the Bay of Fundy for tidal power research, weeks after halting the project to gather more information about its environmental impact.

Margaret Miller announced her approval Monday of the monitoring plan drawn up by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) and Cape Sharp Tidal Venture.

After consulting with concerned fishermen and her counterparts at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Miller said she is satisfied enough with the plan to test the waters of tidal power technology.

“This is a demonstration project,” she told reporters on Monday. “There is no place like the Bay of Fundy, so putting these turbines in the water at this point we will be collecting data from now on.”

Cape Sharp’s five-storey-high turbines, destined for the Minas Passage, are expected to generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes. The company, a partnership of OpenHydro and Emera, is one of several who plan to test different turbine technology in the Bay of Fundy.

The plan to install the mammoth turbines in the passage has faced strong opposition from the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, which contends that instream tidal turbines can’t be made safe for the ecosystem.

Miller said her department has been consulting with the fishermen as part of an ongoing data-gathering process since 2009 and their concerns have been “heard.”

No one from the association could be reached for comment.

Miller said the project’s environmental effects program will improve the understanding of the interaction between the turbines and marine life.

An environmental assessment officer for the department said similar projects in Europe have proven to be “low risk,” but granted that Fundy’s unparalleled tides could present unique challenges.

“Until devices are in the water and we have the opportunity to learn what these effects are … that’s largely unknown at this point in time,” Steve Sandford said.

Despite the gaps in knowledge, Sandford does not anticipate the 1,000-tonne turbines will have a “food processor effect” on marine wildlife, assuring that the blades spin below sushi-making speeds.

If it is determined there is a negative effect on the ecosystem, he said the response could be anything from improving mitigation plans to removal of the devices, depending on the extent of the problem.

Sandford said the information collected from the turbine trial run will inform decisions about possible commercial expansions.

In a statement, the province said FORCE must develop programs aimed at enhancing marine mammal monitoring and provide more details on contingency planning in the event of equipment failure before it gives the go ahead for more turbines to be deployed.