Nova Scotia

Turbines for Minas Passage need real-world testing, officials say

Fishermen's groups are calling for more consultation and research before turbines are deployed in the Bay of Fundy, but scientists and government officials say some questions can't be answered without real-world study.

Fishermen's group calls for more consultation before turbines are used

One hope for the Canadian economy is green innovations such as this giant turbine destined to capture energy from the moon's gravity in the Bay of Fundy. Fishermen have concerns about the impact on marine life. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The only way to answer some of the remaining questions about the impact of turbines on marine life is to put one in the water, say scientists and government officials.

The deployment of two two-megawatt turbines in the Minas Passage by Cape Sharp Tidal is on hold, in part due to fishing groups worried not enough is known about what will happen once the turbines begin to operate.

Fisherman say part of the concern is that they have not been sufficiently consulted.

Colin Sproul, spokesman for the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen's Association, said the baseline science being used for the turbines is inadequate. He and other fishermen want the province to order a new, independent study that includes input from people who feel excluded from past consultations.

Colin Sproul, spokesman for the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, says his group wants more consultation and study before turbines are deployed in the Minas Basin and Passage. (CBC)

The Minas Basin and Minas Passage comprise a major spawning territory for marine life as far away the Gulf of Maine and are too important to put at risk, he said.

But Graham Daborn, professor emeritus of biology at Acadia University, said while he understands the anxiety of fishermen, he thinks it's misplaced because of the small impact only two turbines could have.

"This is a hugely dynamic environment and taking out a very, very small fraction of that energy really cannot even be measured in most environmental effects," he said.

No scientist is willing to compromise other resources just to gain tidal energy, said Daborn, but confidence is growing that it is possible to harness the energy and preserve the environment.

Graham Daborn, professor emeritus of biology at Acadia University, says the only way to know the true impact of a turbine on the marine environment is to get one in the water for study. (CBC)

While there are unanswered questions, many of them are associated with the actual turbines.

"And we can't even touch those issues until we have turbines in the water," he said.

"We're talking about an experiment. We're talking about a test. Those turbines can be taken out at any time if they turn out to be, in the judgement of [Fisheries and Oceans Canada], an issue threatening any particular group of animals."

Tony Wright, general manager of Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy, said comprehensive consultation has happened since 2009, but if some people feel they've been left out there is a desire to fix that.

"The more people we can meet and talk [to] about tidal energy the better, as far as we're concerned."

5 types of monitoring planned

Since 2008 there have been 112 studies to establish baseline science, he said. Once a turbine goes in the water there will be monitoring for the impacts on fish, harbour porpoises, lobster catches, seabirds and to "definitively understand how much subsea noise these devices create.

"Our environmental monitoring program needs to know what's effective and what's not and build upon that as we proceed with more device installations."

Provincial Energy Minister Michel Samson on Thursday said he is confident the project will go ahead.

"I think it's right for Nova Scotians," he told reporters. "Being able to harness the Bay of Fundy tides, which are the strongest tides in the world, this is a tremendous opportunity for us."

Not just lip service

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller said that isn't to suggest people's concerns won't be heard. The project's environmental approval was issued in 2009, she said, adding there could be new information from fishermen that could help mitigate concerns and risk.

Although the company said last week it was hitting pause to do more consultation, Miller said it could not have started operating anyway because they have yet to obtain an environmental monitoring permit.

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