Nova Scotia hailed North America's first successful grid-connected tidal turbine Tuesday with a ceremonial flipping of a switch at a substation outside Parrsboro.
"We are ushering in a new era and taking an unprecedented step towards a lower carbon future," said Energy Minister Michel Samson.
The 1,000-tonne, five-storey turbine was lowered onto the floor of the Minas Passage earlier this month. It was quickly connected to land via a subsea cable and started producing electricity almost right away.
The turbine generates two megawatts of electricity — enough to power 500 homes. The deployment is part of a large-scale demonstration project to test the technology in the powerful tides of the Bay of Fundy over the next several years.
The first deployment in 2009 failed within days when the turbine blades were destroyed by the powerful tides.
Tidal power 8 times more expensive
The electricity being generated is some of the most expensive ever produced in Nova Scotia, costing $530 per megawatt hour versus the current average of $60 per megawatt hour.
Nova Scotia Power customers are paying the cost under a rate set through a provincial initiative to encourage the development of renewable energy.
Executives with OpenHydro and Nova Scotia Power's parent company, Emera, said refinements in technology and standardization will eventually bring the cost down.
"We think it will take about five years for commercialization," said Thierry Kalanquin of OpenHydro.
The two companies have formed Cape Sharp Tidal to deploy this and one other turbine. Both companies stressed that monitoring has shown there has been no harm to fish or mammals in the bay since the turbine was installed.
"We have demonstrated that we have absolutely no environmental impact. Zero," Kalanquin said Tuesday, adding that "there is no fish going through the turbine right now."
Not everyone is pleased
Protestors stationed outside the event were a reminder that not everyone is convinced. Some fishermen in the Bay of Fundy have gone to court to try to reverse the provincial permit that allowed the deployment. They say it poses a threat to the lobster fishery, a claim the province and Cape Sharp Tidal dismiss.
Emera's chief corporate development officer, Nancy Tower, addressed the concern in remarks.
"Would we like to put more turbines in the Bay of Fundy? Yes we would, but not at the expense of things that matter to coastal communities or to the livelihoods that depend on it," she said.
"We've made a commitment to safeguarding the bay and we're working with scientists and universities to protect the ocean and marine life."
4 other groups approved for turbines
Given what happened to the first turbine deployed seven years ago, the other outstanding issue is developing a turbine that can withstand the tides.
Kalanquin earned a round of applause Tuesday when he noted the turbine has already survived the biggest tide in 17 years.
Four other consortiums have been approved to deploy turbines in the Minas Passage. The site is being managed by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, a non-profit company with a government mandate to oversee development of the technology and monitor its environmental impacts.