A pioneer in tidal energy that has received tens of millions of dollars from the federal and provincial government is pulling out of Nova Scotia. 

In a news release issued this morning, Sustainable Marine Energy blamed ongoing delays by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for failing to provide the necessary permits to deploy its technology in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro this summer. 

Last May, after several years work at another site near Digby, the company became the first in Canada to successfully connect its two tidal turbines to the provincial grid operated by Nova Scotia Power.

Sustainable Marine Energy, a company headquartered in Scotland, where the in-stream tidal technology mounted on a platform was first developed, was using the calmer water of Grand Passage near Digby to prove up the technology and conduct environmental monitoring in preparation for moving the platform to the harsher environment in the Bay of Fundy near Parrsboro this summer. 

There are five berths at the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) site empty and waiting for a demonstration project. 

“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 Jason Hayman, CEO of Sustainable Marine Energy, in the press release.

“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, including our vessel, the Tidal Pioneer, which is the most capable inshore construction vessel on the Eastern seaboard.”

Hayman added that Sustainable Marine has received very strong support from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Province of Nova Scotia as well as having secured financing from the private sector to “fully deliver” the Pempa’q project in the harsher part of the Bay of Fundy near Parrsboro. 

A tweet from Premier Tim Houston reads: The federal government is forcing a carbon tax on Nova Scotians, while at the same time blocking real solutions to greening our grid. I stand with the real opportunities of tidal and wind that can truly green our grid and positively transform our economy. #nspoli #cdnpoli
A tweet from Tim Houston on April 25, 2023. Credit: Twitter

Hayman’s comment was in sharp contrast to a two-minute scolding Premier Tim Houston gave Ottawa when he tweeted the company’s plan to leave the province.

Here’s a small portion of what the premier said in a video with the tweet:

The work Sustainable Marine Energy has been doing is incredibly important for our province and the country. Why then is the company packing it in? The federal government shut them down. The federal department dragged its feet so long that the company is leaving. Its ridiculous! 

This is a massive blow to the tidal industry in our region and a massive blow to moving Nova Scotia and the country toward a greener grid. Shame on the federal government!

Houston then segued into a criticism of the federal carbon tax, which Nova Scotians will begin paying this July, questioning why Ottawa wasn’t support “clean, green tidal power.”

Houston made no mention of the fact that another federal department, Natural Resources Canada, put $28.5 million of public money into the Sustainable Marine project. The company, which is headquartered in Scotland and has renewable energy projects in the UK and Europe, plans to bring its platform and turbines out of the water later this week and move them outside Canada.

The platform was built by the Theriault shipyard in Meteghan. 

“We were very proud to be part of the construction of the first platform in Canada to generate floating tidal energy and while it may require a little more study in a different jurisdiction, it would be unfortunate to see the momentum of the sector shift backwards,” said Gilles Theriault, president of AF Theriault & Sons Ltd, in the news release issued by Sustainable Marine. “The team at Sustainable Marine has proven to be very conscientious stewards of our waters and in all their operations over the last five years.”

The Halifax Examiner has confirmed the company completed its application and submitted it to the federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean DFO last summer. 

Asked by the Examiner in January 2023, DFO communications spokesperson Christine Lyons said the department’s policy was not to comment on applications for permits until a decision was made. 

Sustainable Marine said it had attempted “for the past five years” to work with DFO to understand “ a clear regulatory pathway” that might allow the company to deploy its technology in a harsher environment at the Minas Passage near Parrsboro.

Last August, Sustainable Marine put out a news release announcing it had hired additional help to beef up the environmental monitoring it had been doing from the Digby platform over the previous 14 months.

“With the support of fish tracking experts Innovasea, Sustainable Marine is now trialling advanced techniques that could further enhance knowledge of the marine ecosystem — including fish tag triangulation, tests of close-range high-resolution imaging sonar and exploration of artificial intelligence techniques for video processing,” said Hayman in that release, continuing:

We have now compiled a number of monitoring reports, produced on a quarterly basis. Our findings are consistent with all other studies which have been completed over the last 15 years involving the deployment and operation of in-stream turbines around the world, that have to date observed no negative interactions or harm to marine life. 

More specifically, our hydrophone data has identified low amounts of turbine noise, and neither hearing injury nor significant behavioural disturbance of fish is expected based on the measured sound levels. Meanwhile, in the 14 months of deployment, fish tag receivers have detected six animals, likely to be great white sharks, with no other marine mammals or fish species identified in the vicinity of the platform.

The Examiner has asked DFO for its side of the story and will update this article when we receive a response.

The departure of Sustainable Marine Energy is another frustrating setback for Nova Scotia’s tidal power ambitions. Over the past eight years, the province has spent tens of millions of dollars researching tidal power as a potential source of renewable energy, as well as establishing the FORCE demonstration site at Minas Passage near Parrsboro. 

The first project to test the waters, a $20 million-plus venture between Open Hydro and Emera, ended with the abandonment of a 1,000-tonne turbine on the floor of the Bay of Fundy in 2018.

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

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  1. Ever noticed how long it takes the Federal government (or Canadian governments in general to be honest) to actually complete anything?

    Yes, I appreciate they want to be certain they are doing the job properly, having only the intended effect and not wasting vast amounts of public money, but how long has it taken so far and what have we actually achieved for example to…

    Replace 50 year old Sea King helicopters?
    Okay, after the fall of the USSR we needed to cut the federal deficit and it was thought we didn’t need ASW choppers but apparently we forgot about SAR. Then Paul Martin didn’t want to embarrass Jean Chretien by buying the DoD’s preferred variant of the chopper he had cancelled, so we bought another off the drawing board that suffered years of development delays – i.e. political interference

    replace the aging CF-18 RCAF fighter bombers?
    The F-35A is really expensive with a difficult and troubled development history, then Trudeau said he would not consider it, but then he did – probably fearing what an “America First” minded US might do to us if we bought the SAAB Gripen – i.e. politics again

    build new frigates for the RCN (Remember Ships Start Here back in 2010)?
    Have we even settled on a design yet?
    So far all I know is that if they ever start cutting metal they they will be built at the Irving ship yard and Lockheed-Martin will be a prime contractor. How long is the navy supposed to wait? Should we just have just bought a proven design off the shelf and had them built overseas?

    ensure sustainable clean drinking water on First Nations reserves?
    True, Trudeau has made some inroads here but why must it take so long for Native Canadians to receive a basic service that the rest of us take for granted? Are these people as citizens of Canada or not?

    Get people who supported our mission in Afghanistan to Canada and safety, as we promised them before we fled
    These people and their families face Taliban vengeance daily for having helped us. I don’t understand why we couldn’t ship those thought to be likely prospects to a secure location somewhere over here and held them while we sorted out the paperwork. They would at least be safe. We could have treated those eligible to refugee status and deported the rest. Maybe there are better ways to do this but anything would be better than leaving them to their fate while we prevaricate.

    Respect our NATO obligations and lift defence spending up to 2% GDP
    We are currently at 1.29% GDP. Allegedly Trudeau privately told NATO we have no intention of keeping that promise, so this is not just tardiness – it’s abrogation. How can NATO trust us in future? The Americans are also complaining about how long it is taking us to upgrade NORAD, as we had promised. That is despite our nuclear-armed northern neighbour not respecting our Arctic claims and having violently invaded a peaceful country next door under bogus claims. We are currently considered a freeloader within NATO despite their polite public boilerplate.

    Corral the provinces to help fix the ongoing decline of our 13 public health care systems
    Wait times are still too often unfairly long, health care providers are being burned out and are leaving in dramatic numbers and the cost of public our public health programs are eating up around 50% of provincial budgets. Yes, I know Trudeau has struck a deal with Houston this year to help but it feels like just another of his splashy announcements followed by likely disappointment.

    So now regulatory tardiness is possibly driving away a private venture that has already received a great deal of government money and might help revive our increasingly wing and a prayer hopes of meeting our renewable energy targets. Why am I not surprised?

    Government here seems to exist in a parallel universe with a glacial time frame IMHO.