The tidal turbine as it was being moved through Halifax Harbour. Photo: Halifax Examiner

There are two new developments in Fundy tidal power today — the timing of which might strike some observers as a little fishy.

First development: the tidal turbine which has been generating electricity since November in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro will be brought to the surface and barged to Saint John, New Brunswick for an overhaul of some of its electrical components. The turbine is still producing electricity but the companies that spent $33 million dollars in Nova Scotia manufacturing the machine want to replace certain parts to see if it can consistently generate electricity closer to its 2.0 MW capacity — enough to power about 500 homes.

“The clean energy potential of the Minas Passage could be transformative to our province,” says Sarah Dawson, spokesperson for Cape Sharp Tidal. “So it’s important we take the time to get this early demonstration phase right both from a technology and environmental perspective, as we work toward building a viable tidal industry.”

Dawson says during the last five months the turbine has generated varying amounts of electricity of up to 90 per cent of its 2 MW capacity. The company refuses to disclose what its average output has been — claiming it’s “early days” in the commissioning process.

Second development:  the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), released the results of its first environmental study since the experimental turbine was lowered to the bottom of the Bay in November. The deployment spawned a court challenge from inshore fishermen who argued not enough research had been done to justify the risk from turbines to lobster habitat  in the Minas Basin. The judge didn’t agree and the demonstration project proceeded.

FORCE is a not-for-profit agency which has received more than $15 million from the provincial and federal government to conduct research since 2009.  Its first survey of marine life since the turbine landed in November shows no immediate change.

“We have not seen evidence of environmental effects at this point, but it’s too soon to draw any conclusions,” said Tony Wright, general manager of FORCE. “While international research indicates fish and marine mammals generally avoid in-stream tidal turbines, we need time to test those findings here in the Minas Passage.”

Results from two subsequent environmental surveys in January and March have yet to be analyzed, so the jury is still out.

A team from the University of Maine was hired because it has previously conducted fish monitoring near an instream tidal turbine in that State. That team says it has seen no change in the density of fish at either the Minas Passage or the Cape Split control site. The FORCE news release quoted a marine biologist from that team.

“More sampling is needed to document fish density variation over time and determine any effects,” said Dr. Gayle Zydlewski of the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences. “This report includes only the first survey analyzed after deployment; as we collect and analyze more data, a clearer picture will emerge.”

About $250,000, has been allocated to study the interaction between the tidal turbine and fish and marine mammals. In the 84 days before the turbine was lowered, harbour porpoise were present during 99 per cent of those days. A statistical analysis of data collected from September 2016 to January 2017 is ongoing by Sea Mammal Research Unit Consulting (Canada). A separate study of sea birds found no correlation between their lower number and the tidal turbine, attributing that to normal year-over-year patterns.

A key study on whether a tidal turbine on the ocean floor would lead to fewer lobsters entering commercial traps was pushed back to later this spring at the request of fishermen: they wanted data collected while the lobster season was underway. That study may get put on hold now that the turbine is being pulled up for an overhaul.

Cape Sharp Tidal — the joint venture between French-owned Open Hydro and Emera Inc. — updated its website today to say:

In the coming weeks, our teams will be preparing to temporarily retrieve the turbine to make modifications to some of the Turbine Control Centre (TCC) components. The TCC is an electrical component sub-system attached to the subsea base and connected to the turbine which allows us to transform the raw power from the generator into grid-compatible AC power. It also sends operational and environmental sensor data to shore in real time through our subsea cable. 

The Cape Sharp website says the turbine has “performed well and as expected” during the testing phase of a tidal experiment that could take 10 to 15 years before commercial amounts of electricity get produced.

Working with the tides, the first opportunity to bring the five-storey turbine up to the surface will come over the Easter weekend and every two weeks after that.

Dawson says the company has no projected timeline for when the turbine will return to the Bay of Fundy. A second turbine of the same design manufactured in NS last year is supposed to be deployed in the Bay this summer. Meanwhile, FORCE’s Environmental Effects Monitoring program will continue, turbine or no turbine. Its next progress report is due July 1.

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

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  1. Our NSCC has developed small, surface tidal power generators that produce more electricity, apparently. I don’t have much more info than that — something worth pursuing, they won’t be shy to talk about them I’m sure.