Nova Scotia

Idle turbine to stay put this winter, no word on who will pay to retrieve it

The Cape Sharp Tidal Venture turbine has been sitting in the Minas Passage, broken and unused, for months after its main investor filed for liquidation.

Courts in Canada, Ireland dealing with the fallout of OpenHydro filing for liquidation

Who exactly will pay to bring up the turbine from the Minas Passage, and how much it will cost, is still unclear. (Cape Sharp Tidal)

It will be at least March before a massive, damaged turbine resting on the floor of the Minas Passage can be removed from the water, but who will pay for its retrieval — and just how much it will cost — remains up in the air.

Nova Scotia's energy minister said Wednesday he was "well aware" the turbine can't be removed during the winter.

However, Derek Mombourquette appeared less certain on who would cover the cost of hauling the five-storey turbine out of the Bay of Fundy, where it remains after Irish company OpenHydro filed for liquidation this past summer and Emera announced it was withdrawing from the project.

When asked whether he could reassure Nova Scotia taxpayers they wouldn't be footing the bill, the minister said: "I'm not going to speculate at this point. This is a private sector matter, I've been saying that from the beginning."

The minister said the matter is before the courts and his focus is on continuing to ensure the safe monitoring of the turbine.

Pulling out of the project

OpenHydro Group and OpenHydro Technology filed for liquidation in Ireland this summer after parent company Naval Energies yanked support for tidal power.

OpenHydro had been working with Nova Scotia's Emera on the Cape Sharp Tidal Venture — an attempt to test tidal powers in the Bay of Fundy. 

The Cape Sharp Tidal turbine was lowered into the Minas Passage in November 2016. (Cape Sharp Tidal)

Emera, which had a 20 per cent stake in the venture, announced in August it intended to pull out of the project. Emera has declined to answer questions about where the company stands in terms of retrieval costs.

In Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday, OpenHydro Technology Canada was granted a stay of proceedings until March 6 and a $250,000 increase to its debtor-in-possession financing.

The Canadian subsidiary of OpenHydro has been granted protection from its creditors — of which there are many, owed millions altogether.

Money not to be used for turbine retrieval

But lawyers for the creditors stressed in court the financing, now totalling $750,000, should not be used to bring up the turbine. That money comes as a loan from OpenHydro in Ireland.

"It's simply a concern that this is a very, very costly removal. Probably more than what the bond is worth," said Eric Machum, lawyer for RMI Marine, in court.

Mombourquette said this summer there was a security bond posted in the event the turbine had to be retrieved, but wouldn't say how much it's worth.

Nova Scotia Energy Minister Derek Mombourquette says he will continue to promote tidal energy in the province. (CBC)

OpenHydro Canada's lawyer told the court he didn't have a cost estimate for removing the turbine, but said the company is seeking an agreement for Cape Sharp Tidal Venture to pay for it.

As well, he told the court the turbine likely does not have a significant value.

When a team from Ireland came to restart the environmental monitoring devices this summer, they found an internal failure caused significant damage to prevent the rotor from turning.

'Very quiet from FORCE's end'

A former employee with the non-profit agency that manages the tidal site said when it comes to monitoring the turbine, and addressing community concerns, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) should be doing more.

"There is a lot going on, but in particular it's very quiet from FORCE's end. And the silence is deafening," said Mary McPhee, who worked as facilities manager with FORCE for six years until late 2017.

"I believe there has been a lot of damage done by incompetence and by a lack of concern for the environment and the public by other parties, such as FORCE, and I think that it has caused damage to the rapport of tidal energy and the potential for it in this province."

But Dan Hasselman, science director for FORCE who started in July, said they have been stepping up.

"We've been doing a tremendous amount of work over the course of the summer and in fact we ramped up our activities in response to the Cape Sharp liquidation process," he said Wednesday.

Hasselman said because the turbine is non-operational, it poses a reduced risk to the environment. He also said when it comes to a retrieval, he's certain FORCE will have a role to play.

Federal Court matter

In the Irish High Court, OpenHydro Group and OpenHydro Technology are slowly moving through the liquidation process, after a group of shareholders unsuccessfully tried to save the company and delayed the winding up process.

The case has also made its way to Canada's Federal Court system.

Last month, a Federal Court judge ruled that one creditor, BBC Chartering, was entitled to $871,340 from OpenHydro Canada and that it could carry out the commission of sale of the Turbine Control Centre. The TCC is still attached to the turbine.

The heavy lift barge Scotia Tide is under "arrest" at the port of Saint John in New Brunswick. (CBC)

Meanwhile, RMI Marine has sought permission to sell the Scotia Tide barge, which has been used to retrieve and deploy past turbines and currently sits under "arrest" in the port of Saint John.

But the fate of the Scotia Tide won't be heard in the Federal Court until early 2019.

And until all the court matters are resolved, it seems unlikely the province will have much more to say.

CBC filed a freedom of information request to the Department of Energy about the turbine, but the files were almost entirely redacted, citing solicitor-client privilege, advice to the minister and information potentially causing financial harm to the province.

"From Day 1, I've been very open with Nova Scotians about the role that this department plays as the regulator," Mombourquette said.

"And as the minister of energy I'm going to continue to promote the potential of tidal energy in Nova Scotia."

About the Author

Emma Davie

Reporter

Emma Davie is a reporter, web writer and videojournalist in Halifax. She loves listening to, and telling stories from people in the Maritimes. You can reach her at emma.davie@cbc.ca.