News

1. Emera withdraws from Cape Sharp Tidal

Photo: Cape Sharpe Tidal

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Emera is out of the tidal power business in the Bay of Fundy, at least for now. The parent company of Nova Scotia Power (and the North American energy conglomerate with $29 billion in assets) announced yesterday it was withdrawing from its 20 per cent investment in Cape Sharp Tidal.

For the past 10 years, Emera has been a partner in a joint venture with OpenHydro, a Dublin-based company owned by Naval Energies of France, to build and test a massive, 1,000-tonne turbine at a demonstration site in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro.

“The surprise application by Naval Energies to Ireland’s High Court on July 26th requesting the liquidation of OpenHydro and Naval Energies’ subsequent statement that it will no longer support or invest in tidal turbines left Emera with no practical choice but to withdraw from Cape Sharp Tidal,” reads the statement issued by Emera spokesperson Stacey Pineau.

The statement goes on to say that Emera neither owns nor operates the “cutting edge” technology that drives the turbine to convert tidal action into hydroelectricity and “without support from the technology developer, OpenHydro, to operate and maintain the technology and the turbine, we do not believe that there is further value in pursuing this project for our business.”

Kersplash. Emera has no intention of making a bid for a stranded asset at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy when the court-appointed receiver, Grant Thornton of Ireland, puts it up for auction. The Nova Scotia company insists it was blindsided by the decision by OpenHydro’s parent company, Naval Energies, to pull the plug after investing close to $400 million. Yet until March Emera had a director on the OpenHydro Board.

Emera’s Stacey Pineau continues to stick to the script saying only that its director (Christian Richard) resigned because Emera had only a 2.2 per cent interest in OpenHydro and wanted to focus on its 20 per cent investment in the Bay of Fundy (Cape Sharp Tidal Venture).

How much Emera invested in tidal power over the years remains cloaked in commercial confidentiality. It spent $15-million to buy into OpenHydro and later sold $3 million worth of its equity. The first short-lived turbine launched in 2009 cost the partnership about $10 million to design and build. The third and most recent model of the five-storey device, deployed at Minas Passage on July 22 four days before the company imploded, cost at least three times that amount to build (much of that $33 million spent in Nova Scotia).

The province of Nova Scotia is responsible for the regulation,safe operation, and environmental monitoring of a large turbine which now sits switched off at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy. With the ownership of the device now as murky as the water on a windy day, the situation is not unlike inheriting a car you don’t know how to drive. The turbine does have insurance but how much is not something any of the players, including the province, is willing to disclose. Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette is waiting for a contingency plan being developed by the receiver in Ireland, which could involve hiring a team of former OpenHydro staff to remove the device.

“This can’t go on forever,” notes Mombourquette, referring to the wait for instructions. In the meantime, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) set up and financed by the province to manage the demonstration site is continuing to carry out environmental monitoring in the area near the turbine. The sensors and gear on the turbine itself remain switched off while its future gets sorted out by the Irish High Court.

Minister Mombourquette continues to put a brave face on a difficult situation. The setback “has not changed our aspirations to continue to develop tidal power in the Bay of Fundy and elsewhere in the Province,” he said yesterday. “It’s an emerging technology and some companies will go and other players will take their place. We believe there is great potential to be a world leader in tidal energy.”

Emera echoes that sentiment in the last line of its news release, noting it’s still a believer in tidal energy and could easily put its feet back in the water through its $15 million stake in the Oceans Supercluster that combines big taxpayer money from Ottawa with large investments from corporations that have control over the investment decisions.

Tim Bousquet continues:

The collapse of OpenHydro shouldn’t have been completely unexpected, as media in Ireland and France have over the past year detailed the financial problems of its parent company, Naval Energies, and reported on Naval Energies’ desire to strip itself of under-performing assets.

For instance, on December 6, 2017, the Ireland-based Renewables Now reported that Naval Energies was slashing 100 (out of 175) positions at OpenHydro, albeit the company blamed “a lack of visibility of the political will [to pursue tidal power] of certain states, including France” for the layoffs, and insisted the Canadian project was still viable:

In an e-mailed statement, Naval Energies further said that its most advanced product is the tidal turbine. “Today, our priority is to ensure the success of our demonstration projects in Canada and Japan, and prepare the ramping up of the Normandie Hydro project in the Raz Blanchard,” it says. According to the company, these projects will allow it to validate both its technology and economic model.

On April 4, 2018, Vincent Groizeleau of Mer et Marine interviewed Laurent Schneider-Maunoury, President of Naval Energies (I’m not bilingual, so I’m using Google Translate):

For Naval Energies, the most promising technology seems to be that of tidal turbines. This is a sector you have been working on for many years, for which you bought the Irish company OpenHydro and made prototypes and several pre-production machines. You have nevertheless encountered technical problems with the tidal turbines installed in Paimpol-Bréhat and in Canada. Is this technology really ready for use?

The turbines technology is mature, it works since 2006. We have a machine that runs for more than 3 years, continuously, on the test site of EMEC, in Scotland, and our technologies have already allowed injecting 1 GWh of energy on various power grids, particularly in Canada, with a tidal turbine that has been running for almost 6 months and has successfully undergone the largest tide of the century with the strongest current in the world.

We must now mature on the product, the way we manufacture, assemble, buy the components … This is only the industrial development. The problems we have encountered are only related to components delivered to us by the suppliers with a wrong material, which was not compatible with others and caused localized corrosion. This is not something that is crippling, especially since the rest of our tidal stream is perfectly healthy and functional.

Had I been aware of it at the time, that interview would’ve rang alarm bells. Schneider-Maunoury seems to have been misrepresenting the success of the Minas Basin operation — recall that the 2017 test of the turbine had underwhelming results and the retrofit of the turbine dragged on for month after month. Moreover, when Schneider-Maunoury blamed suppliers for the delays, that should have signalled that something major was wrong.

Then, on June 11, GreenUnivers published an interview of Schneider-Maunoury by Patricia Laurent:

GreenUnivers: You took the presidency of Naval Energies last October. Since then, a restructuring has been launched with the removal of a hundred jobs out of 260. What is your strategy today?

Laurent Schneider-Maunoury: Our goal is to be the world leader in marine energy, the industrial partner of reference for all the developers of the sector. This is not a question of size but it requires to be present in the three technologies: tidal turbine, floating wind and thermal energy of the seas. So we decided to continue these different activities but renouncing projects too complex and too expensive.

Too complex and too expensive, eh? That defines the Minas Basin operation to a T. And yet still no one in Nova Scotia knew an OpenHydro bankruptcy was imminent?

I’ve always been skeptical that tidal power would amount to much anytime soon. For sure, there’s potential for such power, and I certainly think we need to get on the renewables train, stat. But I just think the technological problems are too large and complex to be solved such as to generated meaningful return on investment in my lifetime. And I have, shall we say, a healthy skepticism that our local institutions, commercial, governmental, and otherwise, are up to the task.

2. Tufts Cove

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Wanting to get around Nova Scotia Power’s message control, I’ve been trying to get basic information from government agencies about the Tufts Cove oil spill — exactly how much oil was spilled, what are the environmental risks involved, who is responsible for what, etc. Alas, the government agencies are only slightly less opaque than Nova Scotia Power.

First, I asked the former federal Department of Environment, now called Environment and Climate Change Canada, what involvement it had with the Tufts Cove oil spill. This is the statement I got back from spokesperson Samantha Bayard:

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)’s National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) has been notified that a release of Bunker C occurred, in Tuffs [sic] Cove (Dartmouth, NS) from a transfer line at the Nova Scotia Power Tufts Cove Generating Station. Nova Scotia Environment is the Lead agency for this incident.

ECRC, an emergency response organization certified by Transport Canada, is on site to assist and they have deployed booms in the harbour. Booms are temporarily floating containment barriers used to contain a spill. The majority of the release was contained within these booms. ECRC is currently conducting Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) survey in the harbour.

NEEC is monitoring the response and will support the lead agency as needed.

As background, when there is an environmental emergency or incident, NEEC’s primary role is to coordinate ECCC’s technical and scientific expert advice and provide assistance, upon request, to the lead agency overseeing the responsible party’s response actions. NEEC coordinates the provision of advice related to weather forecasts location of wildlife and sensitive ecosystems and expertise on spill countermeasures and remediation options.

SCAT is a systematic method for surveying an affected shoreline after an oil spill. The SCAT approach uses standardized terminology to document shoreline oiling conditions. It is designed to support decision-making for shoreline cleanup. SCAT surveys begin early in the response to assess initial shoreline conditions, and ideally continue to work in advance of operational cleanup. Surveys continue during the response to verify shoreline oiling, cleanup effectiveness, and eventually, to conduct final evaluations of shorelines to ensure they meet cleanup endpoints.

ECCC is responsible for administering and enforcing the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act, which prohibit the deposit of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish or in any place where the substance could enter such water. As we are still gathering information, further comment would be inappropriate at this time.

Since the Nova Scotia Department of Environment is the lead agency, I also asked it for an update. I received this statement from spokesperson Rachel Boomer:

Protection of the environment is our department’s first concern. Response to this incident is a cross-jurisdictional effort, both provincial and federal.

The Department of Environment requires NSPI to hire a site professional — in this case a professional engineer — to oversee the assessment and remediation work. The site professional is accountable to provincial regulations, enforced by the Department of Environment, to ensure the assessment and remediation are done according to our regulations. Facts about the amount spilled and the level of assessed impact are gathered by the site professional, to include in reports that will be filed to this department.

Clean-up efforts continue to remove any free product still present on land and within the containment booms in the cove.

I don’t see why simple stats like how much oil was spilled has to be a state secret. I guess getting simple answers to simple questions will entail a bunch of Freedom of Information requests and the associated waste of the time and money of everyone involved.

3. Fredericton and the media

I don’t have anything much to say about the Fredericton deaths. There’s a lot of grief, both private and public, and emotions are understandably raw. I don’t have any insight, and won’t pretend that I do.

I do notice the reporting, however.

As always, the rush to be first with a story leads to some skewed perceptions. The first person reporters found, a worker for a landlord, who knew the alleged killer, said he was a normal, friendly guy, so that’s the story that went out. But then reporters found someone else who knew the alleged killer, in this case a coffeeshop owner, and the coffeeshop owner said the guy was obsessed with violence and had anti-Muslim views. Stories were updated, but the old “nice guy” headlines remained. Whoops.

But I don’t blame the reporters for that. For the most part, their work has been fair and informative.

What I notice most about the reporting, however, is how much there is, and who’s doing it.

I’m not complaining that seemingly dozens of reporters are covering the story — there’s great public interest. I just wish other human tragedies involving everyday people were accorded even a tenth of the reporting effort.

Relatedly, it’s interesting to me that news agencies are sending reporters from far away to Fredericton. CBC sent at least two reporters from Halifax — Brett Ruskin and Cassie Williams — to Fredericton. The Canadian Press has Fredericton-based reporter Kevin Bissett on the story, but has also sent Montreal-based reporter Morgan Lowrie to Fredericton. I don’t know if they’re actually in Fredericton, but CP reporters Nicole Thompson and Steve Hennigar from Toronto and Michael Tutton from Halifax are also reporting on the story.

If such a tragedy happened in Halifax, would the CBC and CP have to bring reporters from elsewhere to help cover the story? I don’t think so. This suggests that the reporting ranks in New Brunswick and Fredericton are a little thin. Sure, it’s a small city, a sleepy city at that, but it is a provincial capital with a university, and there are undoubtedly many stories that aren’t being told. I worry that the Irving domination of the New Brunswick market has led other media organizations to mostly drop out of the province. That can’t be good.


Government

City

Tuesday

City Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — an extra $16.5 million for the Forum renovation, the Green Network Plan, and the Gottingen Street transit lane, among other matters. To be honest, here it is 9am and I still don’t know if I’ll make the meeting or not.

Wednesday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Thesis Defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Michael Lawrence will defend his thesis, “Developing and Validating a​​ Combined Attention Systems Test​.”

Thesis Defence, Molecular Biology (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room C264, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Michael McPhee will defend his thesis, “An investigation of phosphoregulation and the role of CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase alpha in promoting ras-induced malignant transformation of intestinal epithelial cells.”

Wednesday

No public events.


In the harbour

5;30am: Patriot, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
6am: Arsos, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Miami
7am: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, moves from Pier 31 to Pier 41
4pm: Patriot, car carrier, moves from Autoport to Pier 31
4:15pm: San Alessio, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
4:30pm: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
4:30pm: Arsos, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
8:30pm: Patriot, car carrier, sails from Pier 31 for sea


Footnotes

It’s a slow news week, and I’m both preparing for vacation and hosting an out-of-town guest at my place, so this Morning File is short and honestly, not all that inspired. I’ll try to get riled up about something tomorrow.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Jennifer Henderson

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

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  1. Yes, maybe the province should buy the now orphaned tidal power turbine. Maybe not. The province has a very bad investment history. Clairtone, heavy water, mechanized toilet seats, world trade centre, to name but a few. I hope our power company does not end up footing the bill. Then there will be yet another reason for the general public to complain about high electricity costs.

    1. The Clairtone plant is now being converted into a new facility for Zenabis, the cannabis producer. Maybe luckier this time round.

  2. Richard Saunders is correct. The turbine is going to be very expensive to remove. As long as the turbine is sitting on the ocean floor without regular maintenance, it is potential environmental or navigational hazard. The bankrupt company is not going to maintain the equipment and the liquidator presumably does not have the expertise to do so. Underwater turbines and their parts have “gone missing” in the Bay of Fundy and elsewhere. It costs real money just to salvage the missing equipment.

    NS should in fact bid on the turbine and get the necessary data. But also, NS should approach the liquidators and ask what they are planning to do to maintain the turbine and to keep it from becoming a hazard. Without a decent answer NS may be able to strep in to protect its waters and keep it from becoming a potential environmental/ navigational hazard by taking control of turbine in the interim before the sale of the turbine by the liquidators. This action is necessary to keep a small problem from developing into a much larger problem that could eat into the bankruptcy estate and various pollution funds.

    The costs of keeping the turbine moored on site and doing maintenance can be used to defray the cost of the turbine if it is purchased by the province. Or if someone else is the purchaser, these maintenance services will have to be paid before the turbine can be claimed released to the purchaser.

    Tidal power generation has potential; but the industry needs to be financing like the ocean gas and oil drilling industries. These large pieces of equipment are more analogous to ships, offshore oil/gas platforms than like wind turbines in terms of their design, construction, use and risks.

  3. CBC is back to its old ways now that Justin pumped in millions and millionsof dollars. The Fredericton lead reporter Harry Forestell was on TV at first and then Adrienne Arsenault from The National flew in to lead a team which also included Brett Ruskin and Kayla Hounsell from Halifax.
    You must realise that the 20 plus yeasr veteran reporter Harry is just not as brilliant as the people in Ottawa/Toronto and when the CBC is swimming in money the local people are just not up to the job.

  4. Imagine how much energy we could have saved and decent jobs created if we just subsidized energy efficiency upgrades for our existing housing stock instead of building that underwater boondoggle.

    Nova Scotia is not that cold and ‘only’ at 45 degrees N, and it is perfectly possible to build mostly passive buildings up to nearly 60 degrees from the equator. The fact that you can drive from Nova Scotia to the prairies to Los Angeles and see people living in essentially the same sort of dwelling, just with different sized heating and cooling equipment is possibly the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

  5. I am disappointed in the results of this latest attempt to harness tidal energy. I hope there are enough lessons learned to spark another attempt by someone else. There is so much energy there, I am confident that someday it will be harnessed effectively and responsibly.

    That said, I can’t believe that putting it in the ocean just before announcing receivership was anything other than a case of ocean dumping to avoid having to pay haulage, storage and maintenance fees for that huge piece of equipment somewhere on dry land.

    1. Prospect of lots of jobs generating clean, renewable energy for sale to the lucrative US market (and we can use what’s left over) some day.

      Maybe we can get Trudeau to buy it?

      1. 65 billion $ to build naval ships we WILL NEVER NEED and enriching the Irvings. ?billion $ to pipe crude oil to the BC coast. Versus harnessing clean/renewable tidal power to mitigate actual climate change. Priorities.