In January, the provincial government of Nova Scotia announced in a news release that it will finally go forward with its tidal energy project, first announced in 2015, in the Bras d’or Lakes and the Bay of Fundy. Businesses or research firms wishing to obtain tidal energy demonstration permits are therefore encouraged to submit their application to the Department of Energy’s offices.
In launching this project, the Province hopes to encourage innovation and to support sustainable growth in the tidal energy industry. The project is also consistent with the Province’s long-term goal of maintaining its standing as a world leader in renewable energy, particularly in the nascent field of tidal energy. The unique geography of Nova Scotia provides the Province with enormous potential in this respect.
What is tidal energy?
Tidal energy can be produced by three different methods : (i) from tidal range energy, that is, the energy produced by the difference between high and low tide (ii) from energy generated by tidal waves on the surface of the water (ocean wave energy), and (iii) by converting kinetic energy from ocean currents, including near-shore tidal currents, as it is the case in the Bay of Fundy.
In order to capture this energy, researchers use an underwater turbine placed within the path of tidal currents. During shifts in the tide, the movement of water from ocean currents activates the turbine’s blades. The mechanical energy produced is then converted into electricity.
Generally, a tidal energy turbine has an overall efficiency of 40 to 50%, which means that almost half of the mechanical energy can be converted into electricity. In addition, unlike wind, ocean currents are predictable, which allows better management of the electricity that is produced.
Objectives Related to Nova Scotia’s Call for Applications
Tidal energy technology is emerging, and as a result, is subject to rapid change. By granting energy permits, the Province seeks to offer the optimal working and research conditions to industry players.
Because the technology is not fully developed, the tidal energy industry will require significant research time and monetary investment. Nova Scotia hopes that businesses will see the tidal energy project as an opportunity to allow them to resolve problems with the technology while minimizing the costs of research.
This line of thinking led the Government of Canada, in the summer of 2017, to invest more than one million dollars in the development of new tidal energy technologies in the Bay of Fundy region. As it is the case with the province of Nova Scotia, the federal government hopes to spur the development of effective techniques in order to fully realize the energy potential of its coastline.
Amendment to the Marine Renewable Energy Act
In the early fall of 2017, Nova Scotia amended its Marine Renewable Energy Act (the “MREA“) to give businesses the ability to sell the electricity they generate from tidal energy at a lower price than existing tidal feed-in-tariffs.
With these amendments, the Minister of Energy may negotiate and issue power purchase agreements for a period of up to 15 years.
In collaboration with the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Energy may also grant demonstration permits for up to 5 megawatts (“MW“) for a tidal energy turbine. This permit may be granted for a period of 5 years and is renewable for an additional 5 years.
However, the permits will only be issuable for tidal energy operations totalling 10MW for the Bay of Fundy and Bras d’Or Lakes regions. In addition, businesses holding permits must respect the zones established by the MREA or they may lose their permit.
Prior to these amendments, the maximum power allowed for a tidal energy turbine was 2MW. Now, with a maximum allowed power of up to 5MW the tidal energy turbines could have a potential generating capacity larger than any wind energy turbine currently on the market.
It is important to note that any tidal energy turbine over 2MW will be subject to more rigorous assessment as part of the government’s mission to ensure zero-risk environmental research.
In early 2017, during the initial phase of the tidal energy project, the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to overturn the government’s approval of the project due to lack of environmental data.
The Court decided not to proceed with the request, having determined that the government had made “extraordinary efforts” to minimize negative environmental impacts considering the novel nature of the technology. The rejection of this claim may therefore allay fears related to possible future legal opposition to the project.