Community energy trust co-ordinates efforts to harness Fundy’s immense surge

Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Company has had a turbine operating in Cobscook Bay, across the Bay of Fundy from Brier Island,  for a little over a year.

Hopes of harnessing the rise and fall of the Bay of Fundy’s waters to generate renewable energy are gaining momentum.

Fundy Tidal Inc., a Brier Island company focused on small-scale tidal energy projects, has joined forces with local governments in Digby County to support research, development and commercialization of tidal power in the region.

Roughly 100 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy during a tidal cycle each day. Capturing the force of these tides could produce a predictable, clean energy source for the province.

But developing technology that can withstand the powerful currents and harness tidal power poses serious challenges.

The newly formed Digby Community Energy Trust aims to remove the technical barriers hampering tidal power development.

The trust will co-ordinate resources and cover the operating costs for the Digby Community Energy Centre, which will provide testing and demon-stration capabilities.

“Digby County is an ideal location for the generation of tidal power,” Dana Morin, Fundy Tidal’s director of business development, said in an interview Tuesday.

One close example of an operating tidal energy project is across the Bay of Fundy in Eastport, Maine.

Ocean Renewable Power Co. of Portland has been generating electricity using a turbine in Cobscook Bay since September 2012.

The electricity generated is sold to Bangor Hydro Electric Co., the electricity distributor for the region, under a 20-year power purchase agreement that allows the company to produce and sell up to five megawatts of energy, enough to power about 2,000 homes.

In Nova Scotia, Fundy Tidal has been laying the groundwork for the tidal energy industry since its launch in 2006, overseeing the development of a regulatory framework and the tidal array feed-in tariff.

“It’s taken a lot of patience,” Morin said. “If you can’t sell the power, you have no industry.

“We’ve had to create this industry from the ground up.”

Fundy Tidal inked a deal with Clean Current Power Systems Inc. of British Columbia earlier this month to test and demonstrate the Vancouver firm’s tidal turbine.

The company expects to begin producing tidal power in early 2015.

Larry Hughes, a Dalhousie University professor who studies energy security issues, said Nova Scotia should capitalize on the renewable marine energy sector.

“There is nothing wrong with having a test site, but if we want to really build an industry, we have got to start doing the research, development and manufacturing of these tidal or current turbines here,” he said.

“We should be encouraging companies to come here to actually do the research, design and manufacturing in Nova Scotia.”

Maine’s Ocean Renewable Power Co., for example, is both a project developer and technology producer. The company’s underwater turbine systems were built by contractors under the company’s supervision, spokeswoman Susy Kist said in an email.

But Morin said the turbine is a relatively small part of an overall project and that European companies are further ahead in developing the technology.

Moreover, he said, Fundy Tidal paired with a B.C. company as there is no company in Atlantic Canada developing the technology.

He added that the Digby County test site has spurred economic spinoffs in the region that will continue once the turbine is operational.

Energy Minister Andrew Younger said small-scale initiatives like Fundy Tidal’s community feed-in tariff projects can have big impacts in their communities.

“Digby’s actions and enthusiasm demonstrates the opportunities tidal energy brings to rural communities,” he said in a news release.

The Municipality of the District of Digby and the Town of Digby have both paired with Fundy Tidal to develop the Digby Community Energy Trust.

Fundy Tidal received approval through the community feed-in tariff program for three projects in Digby County: A 1.95-megawatt project in Digby Gut and 500-kilowatt developments in both Grand Passage and Petit Passage. It also received approval for two projects in Cape Breton: One for 500 kilowatts in Great Bras d’Or Channel and one for 100 kilowatts in Barra Strait.

Story by BRETT BUNDALE

The Halifax Chronicle Herald

November 19, 2013