As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, Sustainable Marine Energy (SME) Canada says it is leaving Nova Scotia after a five-year experiment with tidal power near Digby, which included a $28.5 million subsidy from the federal government. 

The project was successfully connected to the provincial grid and producing electricity for a period of four months. 

The CEO for Sustainable Marine Canada, Jason Hayman, blamed the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) for refusing to grant the company authorization to test the same technology — a single floating platform with several turbines mounted below the water line — at an established demonstration site in the Minas Passage area of the Bay of Fundy near Parrsboro. 

Premier Tim Houston went public with his criticism that the decision was a major setback for the province’s aspirations to develop tidal power as a way to green the grid and get off coal:

This is a huge, huge miss by DFO. We can’t have DFO holding back our province in this way. The opportunity is too great. The world is just screaming for renewable energy and we can be providing it here in Nova Scotia over the next five, eight, 10 years.

The tides at Minas Passage are higher than at Digby and the presence of ice and mud also make it a more challenging marine environment. Two previous attempts by an Irish company to deploy a turbine there on the ocean floor of the Bay of Fundy met with failure. 

Sustainable Marine Energy Canada CEO Jason Hayman accused DFO of providing “no clear regulatory path” for how to obtain the necessary permit to test its technology at the demonstration site. 

The company claims it submitted 18 months of environmental data not only from the Digby installation, where underwater cameras and hydrophones were mounted to monitor the movements of fish and marine mammals, but also from other sites in Europe where the same technology has been deployed for 10 years without any known adverse effect on marine life. 

The Halifax Examiner asked the Department of Fisheries & Oceans why the company’s application to test at a demonstration site was rejected. Although no one from DFO would agree to an interview, on Tuesday DFO spokesperson Jeff Woodland responded by email, as follows, in part:

Our role is to uphold the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act and any potential impact to fish and fish habitat and species at risk in areas of the Bay of Fundy. As per the Fisheries Act, projects are required to provide an adequate monitoring plan in order to evaluate any potential impact to fish and fish habitat.

The Minas Passage is an area with fast moving tide, that is narrow, low visibility, where two species at risk (white shark and inner Bay of Fundy salmon) pass through. The Bay of Fundy is also critical to the commercial herring fishery, which supports 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in communities nearby.

DFO Maritimes Region has been communicating a staged approach to Sustainable Marine Energy, since 2018, through numerous engagements, and remains willing to work with the proponent on their application.

The email suggests DFO wasn’t convinced Sustainable Marine had made adequate provision for how to monitor interactions between fish in the Bay and the in-stream propellers mounted on the floating platform. 

DFO has previously cited “privacy provisions” in the Fisheries Act for refusing to be more specific about why the company’s request for authorization was denied. An on-the-record conversation might help clear up the confusion but so far, that hasn’t happened.

The DFO email did dispute the company’s allegation that DFO’s regulatory process for tidal energy is “opaque.”

“We have also developed a clear regulatory pathway to guide proponents through the process,” said Woodland in the email. 

It also included a comment from Wendy Williams, acting regional director for aquatic ecosystems for DFO Maritimes, who said the federal department is currently working on a process to guide the development of future offshore wind projects that will also need to consider fish habitat. 

Williams expects that regulatory framework to be in place sometime in 2024.

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Jennifer Henderson

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

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  1. Big Moon Tidal managed to navigate this and get DFO approval. So its not like they object to everything- the impression you get from this company, and even more from the Premier.