New Brunswick's quest for tidal power isn't dead despite Irving Oil's decision to pull the plug on its research project, according to Energy Minister Jack Keir.
Keir said Thursday he wasn't given a reason why Irving Oil opted to abandon its tidal research project in the Bay of Fundy, including parts of Passamaquoddy Bay, Cape Enrage and the Cape Spencer area near Saint John.
The energy minister said he doesn't think the technology to generate electricity from the tides is commercially viable right now, and that may have led to the company's decision.
He also points to the challenges Nova Scotia Power is facing with a test turbine that broke earlier this month in Minas Passage.
"It's six storeys high, the size of a football field and I think it generates — when it's working — one megawatt of electricity. You know it's just — the technology just isn't there yet," Keir said.
Irving Oil partnered with the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews and started research in May 2008 on how to harness the Fundy tides to make electricity.
Despite the setback, Keir said the New Brunswick government hasn't given up on tidal power.
Now that the Irving project is dead, the energy department plans to watch developments in Nova Scotia closely and encourage private sector investment. Keir said he expects to issue another request for proposals once he's reviewed the file.
Tide tests held promise
Irving Oil's sudden decision to halt the tidal project didn't just catch politicians off guard.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the operations manager for the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, is putting away his tidal research equipment.
The centre was measuring the speed and direction of the current at five of the 11 Crown land sites that Irving Oil was given rights to, and Fitzgerald said the results of those tests were promising.
But last week, after conducting a strategic review, Fitzgerald said Irving terminated the project without explanation.
"I think there was a number of factors that played into it, everything from the current world price of energy, to the political climate, to the technology challenges doing this," Fitzgerald said.