Op-ed: Tidal question must be answered by facts, not speculation

Cape Sharp Tidal turbine deployment in the Bay of Fundy, Canada (Photo: FORCE)

Tony Wright, General Manager at Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE), has shared his views on the prospect of in-stream tidal technology as one of the solutions to climate change problem.

Tony Wright

The global climate is warming. This is a scientific fact. And Canada’s temperature is rising more quickly than the global average.

Another fact: This warming is mostly the result of human activity; predominantly, the burning of fossil fuels.

Another fact: Each year, about 6.5 million deaths worldwide are linked to air pollution, a number that could grow in coming decades unless the global energy sector responds.

Nova Scotia is already a leader here, achieving some of North America’s most significant per capita gains in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

But there is still work to do: most of Nova Scotia’s electricity is still generated by burning imported fossil fuels.

This is why we are exploring the potential to generate electricity from the tides in the Minas Passage, using in-stream tidal technology.

While this exploration takes place, it’s important to also stick to facts.

During this demonstration phase, any effects from in-stream turbines are expected to be extremely small, principally because of one important fact: scale.

A single turbine occupies a tiny fraction of the cross-section of the Minas Passage (less than 0.1%), and extracts an even smaller fraction of the energy in the Minas Passage (less than 0.05%).

The international scientific community involved in studying in-stream tidal projects worldwide echoes this view. The recent ‘State of the Science Report: Environmental Effects of Marine Renewable Energy Development Around the World (2016)’ indicates tidal projects with up to 100 turbines will likely “have very little system-wide effects even in the most complex marine systems.”

Further, the report indicated any changes from a small number of devices “will not be measurable”. The report also found “no collisions” observed between turbines and marine mammals, fish, and seabirds.

These findings must be tested, again and again, in the Minas Passage. And while this process of testing happens, we must be led by facts, not speculation.

Cape Sharp Tidal turbine installation at FORCE (Photo: Cape Sharp Tidal)

The recent fish mortality in southwestern Nova Scotia is an example. Despite speculation, a month long investigation into the St. Mary’s Bay incident by Fisheries and Oceans Canada concluded there was no evidence of any link to human activity, including no evidence of any connection to the turbine.

The investigation included five flyovers of the Bay of Fundy, covering the Minas Basin and Channel, Cape Chignecto and southern coastline of Nova Scotia down to Brier Island. DFO observed no fish mortalities other than where originally reported – over 150km from the FORCE demonstration site.

While DFO has finished its study, the examination of tidal technology and potential impacts carries on.

This includes collecting additional baseline data, for fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and marine noise at the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE) located near Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. All these finding will be made public.

FORCE’s monitoring program now has its most important test subject: a demonstration turbine.

Working with academic and research partners, including the Sea Mammal Research Unit Consulting (Canada), University of Maine, Acadia University, Luna Ocean Consulting, JASCO Applied Sciences, Ocean Sonics, Nexus Coastal Resource Management, and Envirosphere Consultants, FORCE will collect, interpret, and publish the results for both regulators and the public – to lead an informed conversation about this new technology.

This will be an iterative program, with quarterly results published along the way – to ensure monitoring is led by evidence, rather than speculation. And it must avoid false information.

This month, the Chronicle Herald quoted a claim that “the provincial environmental assessment required [tidal energy] proponents to bury their transmission line, which had not been buried…causing legitimate concern that both acoustic disturbance and electromagnetic fields from cables were having an effect on herring.”

That claim is false. The environmental assessment did not require cable burial; in fact, the assessment stated “the effect of EMF on electrosensitive species, if present, is expected to be minimal (limited to within a few cm).” An additional study found that EMF from subsea power cables “has not been documented to cause adverse effects, such as disruption of migration.”

The Herald article offers compelling drama – who cares if it’s not true?

We all should. Climate change is happening. And we can’t keep burning fossil fuels while the evidence continues to mount, including population level shifts in the marine ecosystem on which all of us depend, including our fisheries. We need solutions.

Can in-stream tidal technology be one? It will take time to have all the answers – to know if this new technology is both safe and affordable.

To find those answers, we can’t be lead by speculation, nor by false claims. We must be led by science. We must be led by facts.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tidal Energy Today.

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