Nova Scotia

No talks to raise turbine in Bay of Fundy, says energy minister

Three weeks after the main investor went bankrupt, the Cape Sharp Tidal turbine continues to sit without monitoring on the floor of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia's Energy Minister would offer no timeline for when action would be taken.

Derek Mombourquette says there's money set aside for retrieval, but wouldn't say how much

Energy Minister Derek Mombourquette, says there are no plans to raise the Cape Sharp Tidal turbine, but he's pushing for partners to comply with environmental monitoring. (CBC)

While almost three weeks have passed since the majority shareholder of a test turbine in the Minas Passage filed for liquidation, the fate of the machine spinning at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy is still murky.

But the province's energy minister insists there are no talks to raise the turbine.

Neither the energy minister nor representatives from the Fundy Ocean Research for Energy (FORCE) can say how long the turbine can sit on the sea floor unmonitored, but local fishermen want to see it removed as soon as possible.

While Derek Mombourquette has said the turbine can't stay there indefinitely, he's waiting for a contingency plan from the partners at Cape Sharp Tidal Venture before making any decisions.

The energy minister wouldn't say how long the government is prepared to sit idle before demanding action.

"There are things we can do throughout the process, whether it's issuing orders, we look at the licenses and we look at fines. We're not there yet," Mombourquette said.

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

Cape Sharp Tidal was a joint effort with Irish company OpenHydro and Nova Scotia's energy company, Emera Inc., to attempt to harness the power of the tides in the Bay of Fundy. Emera had a 20 per cent stake in the project.

On July 26 — two days after the turbine had been hooked up to the power grid — OpenHydro filed for liquidation after its parent company, Naval Energies, pulled funding. On Monday, Emera announced it was withdrawing from Cape Sharp Tidal.

The fate of the turbine now rests with Grant Thornton, liquidators for OpenHydro in Ireland.

Security fund for turbine retrieval

Mombourquette said as part of the process for applying for a berth in the Bay of Fundy, the companies would have posted a security in case a retrieval was necessary.

How much money that is, he wouldn't say, citing "corporate sensitive information."

"We would hold that in trust for them in the event … a retrieval needs to take place," he said.

Tony Wright, general manager of FORCE, told CBC's Information Morning that, as a research centre, they have little say in the fate of the turbine.

"Those who can make the decision to order the turbine removal is the province of Nova Scotia or DFO under the Fisheries Act," Wright said.

"We'll have to work with the receiver, understand what they want to do. It's important to understand that the province is actually a decision-maker in this as well. They'll have to approve the sale of the project."

In theory, Wright said, one of the other four holders of berths in the Bay of Fundy could take over the project, but it would be up to the province to approve.

Workers walk past a turbine for the Cape Sharp Tidal project at the Pictou Shipyard in May 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

While Mombourquette shied away from the province's responsibility to the project, he said despite Emera's announcement to pull out, the company is still involved.

"The partners are still in play, so Emera is still a partner. They're working with our staff," he said.

"As we move down this path, we will continue to make decisions. But we have not got to the point of looking at retrieving the turbine."

When asked what would happen if Emera was able to withdraw from the project, Mombourquette said he couldn't comment on Emera's future role in the project.

"But what I can comment on is that they are still partners in the project. As the regulator, we still have expectations that need to be met for the operation of the turbine."

Environmental effects

Those expectations include environmental monitoring.

The turbine is subject to weekly monitoring, however it has been isolated from the power grid — meaning there is no power going to the monitoring equipment.

"I have indicated to all partners that this cannot go on indefinitely," Mombourquette said.

"And that they need to respond to our request that it's operating as intended and that environmental monitoring is in place and it needs to happen very soon."​

While the turbine is not producing electricity, it is still spinning. The environmental effects of that are also unclear.

Fishermen in the area want to see the turbine brought up as soon as possible.

Colin Sproul is with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association. (CBC)

"There's still a giant killing machine sitting on the sea floor of the Bay of Fundy with absolutely no environmental monitoring at this point," Colin Sproul , vice-president with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association, said on CBC's Mainstreet.

"The chances of it hitting something are certainly much greater than not."

But Sproul said he believes the provincial government is at the centre of "all of the problems in tidal energy development."

$11 million on FORCE

"The Department of Energy has really abdicated their responsibility to protect Nova Scotians and to protect the environment," Sproul said.

"When the Energy Minister, Mr. Mombourquette, said there is no public money tied up in this turbine, that's an outright lie."

While the province has not spent any money on Cape Sharp directly, it has spent $11 million on FORCE. Mombourquette said that included $7 million for infrastructure and $4 million for electrical upgrades to support all five tidal power projects in the area.

Cape Sharp, however, is the only company with a turbine in the water.

Wright said FORCE's task, to inform decision-making about whether tidal power can be part of Nova Scotia's energy future, will continue "with or without Cape Sharp."​

Mombourquette believes there's still a future for tidal power in the province, despite Naval Energies' decision to abandon tidal energy altogether.

"They've made a decision to abandon tidal energy but we have a number of companies that have not," he said.

"They're still committed to enhancing their technologies, they're still committed to working with FORCE and us as a province to unlock our potential to tidal power."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Information Morning and Mainstreet