It’s hard not to be optimistic in Digby

By Ben Cleveland

Mayor of Digby, NS

Global markets are in turmoil and governments at all levels are struggling to provide services while keeping debt under control.

Closer to home, the challenges facing rural communities are enormous, with declining populations and job opportunities perhaps the most significant indicators. Given this state of affairs, it might be enticing for political leaders to throw up their arms in despair. That would be a mistake, as it would overshadow how fortunate we are to live in this province and this country and take our focus off opportunities that are at our doorstep.

For the town of Digby, one such opportunity for our community is tidal energy. We intend to be the port of choice for servicing this industry.

We are blessed by our location in the Annapolis Basin, tucked in from the Bay of Fundy. We have an active fishery wharf that is home to the largest fishing fleet on the Bay. We are the terminus for people and goods moving to and from Central Canada and the U.S.A. via the Digby-to-Saint John ferry. We have the most fog-free and highest-elevation airport in the province. We host the largest bike rally in Atlantic Canada, are home to a Stanley Thompson-designed championship golf course at the stately Digby Pines. We have an active marina and are proud of our royal designation at the Royal Western Nova Scotia Yacht Club.

And, of course, we share a global identity with Nova Scotia’s most iconic food product — the Digby scallop, recently celebrated with a very successful Scallop Days festival.

All of the above are successful because local business and other civic-minded people have contributed their time and talent to make things work around here.

We are taking the same approach with tidal energy. Commercial development is being actively explored, and thanks to the leadership of the provincial government, augmented by strong support from the federal government, Nova Scotia could very well soon emerge as a world leader. Tidal technology is still at the research and development stage as engineers struggle to match their technology with the force of the Bay of Fundy tides. In 2012 and 2013, we anticipate significant uptake in the number of turbine deployments.

Once these turbines are deployed, there will be a demand for servicing and maintenance. When turbines are being maintained, there is no energy being produced so, for the operator, time is money and proximity becomes a very valuable asset.

And the Port of Digby has that proximity.

It is Nova Scotia’s predominant working port on the Bay of Fundy — it’s our most accessible, deep-water, ice-free Fundy port. And its proximity to the turbine deployment areas makes the port a strong location for this emerging industry.

The port has easy access to air, road and marine transportation, and we have the critical supply-chain elements that the industry demands. These include: firms with extensive experience in offshore ocean environments and metal fabrication; a supply of skilled labour; the most experienced and knowledgeable workforce for operating in this environment; operating costs lower than other locations where there is potential for tidal energy; and close proximity to two of Nova Scotia’s universities as well as Community College campuses which offer a pipeline for the future technical and professional workforce.

According to a recent study, the benefit to Nova Scotia from the deployment of just 55 tidal turbine units could be in the order of $165 million by 2020, with related employment of over 340 person-years. Service and maintenance would be substantial over the units’ life, adding another $30 million, with related 550 person-years.

These opportunities are exciting — they’re real — and Digby intends to capture a piece of this business.

We are ideally situated to provide the service that the tidal industry demands.

And that’s just part of the renewable energy development scenario currently unfolding in southwestern Nova Scotia.

So in this corner of rural Nova Scotia, we’re optimistic about our future, and we’re working diligently to build a productive and sustainable economy.

But we have something which may prove to be even more valuable: It’s also a great place to live and, oh yes, we were named Canada’s "Most Romantic Town" — something about the scallops perhaps!

Ben Cleveland is mayor of Digby.

From the Halifax Chronicle Herald Opinion-Editorial page

Saturday, August 20, 2011