More information is surfacing concerning the departure of a tidal power developer Sustainable Marine Energy from the province.

That company had for experimented for five years in the Bay of Fundy near Digby and had received a federal subsidy of nearly $30 million. 

Last year, the company became the first in Canada to successfully connect a tidal power turbine to supply energy to Nova Scotia Power.

But last month, the Sustainable Marine, a subsidiary of a company headquartered in Scotland, abruptly announced it was pulling up stakes and leaving Nova Scotia.

The company claimed it failed to get the required authorization from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to move its tidal turbine to the FORCE demonstration site in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro, a harsher environment with faster moving tides and currents.

Sustainable Marine CEO Jason Hayman described DFO’s regulatory process as “opaque.” 

Hayman was clearly frustrated that the environmental monitoring the company had carried out observing fish and marine mammals at the Digby site for several years, as well as observations from other deployments in the United Kingdom, did not satisfy the federal regulator for the move to the Minas Passage.

“We are disappointed that we have not been able to obtain the permissions we need from DFO to continue with the Pempa’q Instream Tidal Energy Project and deploy at the FORCE tidal test site,” said Hayman, in a news release issued April 24. “This is a great shame considering not only our technology is ready, but there have also been massive investments in the tools and infrastructure necessary to deliver the project.”

The technology features propellers mounted below a floating platform that will rotate faster as the flow of water increases. 

In order to satisfy German and other private investors who had invested tens of millions of dollars in the Nova Scotia project, Hayman needed a multi-year commitment from DFO to trial the technology in the Minas Passage. 

Instead, DFO offered a one-year trial with renewal of that lease conditional upon the company strengthening its environmental monitoring. DFO was concerned about harmful interactions with a commercial herring fishery and two species-at-risk — white shark and inner Bay of Fundy salmon.

That new information is contained in a three-page letter from federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to Sustainable Marine Energy Canada. The letter is dated May 11, 2023 — almost three weeks after Jason Hayman announced the company was leaving town. 

Portions of Murray’s letter have been reported by another media outlet ( DFO refuses to release a copy of Murray’s letter to the Halifax Examiner, but a DFO spokesperson has confirmed the accuracy of the following paragraphs contained in the letter:

I want to reiterate the Department’s openness to a short-term deployment based on the understanding that a continued operation or scaling up depends on a demonstrated ability to monitor interactions between the proposed device and fish.

DFO remains committed to working with you on pathways to deploy your technology.

But the horse was already out of the barn and the turbine out of the water. 

DFO’s letter putting in writing what had been discussed back in March arrived just hours before Sustainable Marine announced it was hiring an accounting firm to place the Canadian subsidiary in voluntary bankruptcy. 

So far, DFO has received no response from the company to its offer of a 12-month lease and Examiner attempts to reach CEO Jason Hayman by email indicate the boss is away and unavailable until next week.

Task force appointed

Meanwhile as Michael Tutton reports for the Canadian Press:

The federal government is creating a task force to clarify regulations for projects attempting to harness the tidal energy of the Bay of Fundy, after a key player sought bankruptcy protection last week — and blamed Ottawa. 

Following meetings Tuesday with representatives from the tidal-power industry, federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray said government officials and the private sector would make recommendations on how her department could better communicate environmental requirements and reduce turnaround times for approvals.

 “We want to develop this industry and we think greater collaboration is the best way forward and that’s what the task force is all about,” she said.

Darren Porter heads up a group of inshore fishermen in the Bay of Fundy. He put out a video message on his Facebook site applauding DFO’s “go slow” approach when it comes to Sustainable Marine’s turbine technology. 

Porter suggests the data from the monitoring done in the calmer waters of Grand Passage near Digby is insufficient to predict what could happen when the turbine blades start spinning 20-30 times faster once they encounter the much stronger currents in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro. 

“I’m not for or against tidal power,” Porter tells viewers on his Facebook site. “I am against placing high risk machines in the Bay of Fundy where there is low visibility.”

Porter has worked with Big Moon, a smaller tidal developer with a much slower speed turbine due to its paddle-wheel design. Big Moon has piloted a prototype at Scots Bay across the Minas Passage from Parrsboro. The company has got the green light from DFO to test its design at a berth at the FORCE demonstration site. 

However that approval is conditional on Big Moon managing to raise a 1,300 tonne turbine abandoned in 2016 after an unsuccessful deployment by Open Hydro. And that’s no small obstacle.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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