Sustainable Marine drops Nova Scotia tidal energy project as federal government faces backlash over missed opportunity
Sustainable Marine, a company that achieved an important milestone for Canada with a first-ever grid-connected floating tidal energy platform in Grand Passage, has decided to withdraw its application for the development of projects in the Bay of Fundy due to the lack of a transparent regulatory process for tidal energy industry.
In March 2023, Sustainable Marine’s Canadian subsidiary advised Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that it was withdrawing its application, and would not be continuing the development of the Pempa‘q instream tidal energy project at Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE).
The company cited the lack of a ‘pathway to deliver [its] project at FORCE, let alone one that aligns with other provincial and federal instruments.’
Sustainable Marine developed technology based on floating tidal energy turbines, with one unit already operational and supplying power to the power grid in Digby County in Nova Scotia.
The unit, dubbed PLAT-I 6.4, was supposed to be relocated to the FORCE demonstration site in the Minas Passage to form part of the world’s first floating tidal energy array as part of the ‘Pempa’q Project’.
The objective of the project was to provide up to 9MW of predictable and clean renewable electricity to Nova Scotia’s electrical grid, and was funded with C$28.5 million (€19 million) from Natural Resources Canada’s Emerging Renewables Power Program back in 2020.
Being unable to secure the necessary permits for the project from DFO for years, Sustainable Marine decided to halt its tidal energy operations in Nova Scotia, expressing disappointment over the lack of transparency and promptness of the regulatory process for the tidal energy industry in the country.
“This is a great shame considering not only our technology is ready, but there have also been massive investments in the tools and infrastructure necessary to deliver the project, including our vessel, the Tidal Pioneer, which is the most capable inshore construction vessel on the Eastern seaboard,” Jason Hayman, the CEO of Sustainable Marine, was quoted as saying by Saltwire.
Sustainable Marine’s tech classified as ‘high risk’ for marine fauna, without additional explanation
According to Sustainable Marine, the company has been ‘desperately’ trying to find a solution to its impasse with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, stating the agency classified its tidal energy technology as high risk and likely to harm fish and marine animals.
The company added the Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not provide it with the permits or any form of pathway that would allow it to deliver the project at FORCE.
“They haven’t told us how they have arrived at this conclusion and have refused to share their homework. We are extremely puzzled by it given that during our extensive environmental monitoring in Grand Passage since 2018 there has been no evidence of any fish or marine animals being harmed.
“Unfortunately, due to this lack of transparency and without a viable regulatory pathway that is aligned with other government agencies, we have had to make the very difficult decision to suspend operations in Canada.
“We do however take great pride in what our amazing team have achieved to date in Grand Passage as Canada’s leading tidal energy developer and the first to deliver power to the grid. We believe we have proved a way to harness the immense tidal resource to generate clean, predictable energy in a safe and effective manner with ultra-low environmental impact,” Sustainable Marine said in a statement.
Canada’s federal government severely criticized for the missed opportunity
Following the decision to withdraw the application for the 9MW floating tidal energy array, Sustainable Marine also informed that it is removing its operational tidal energy platforms, halting all tidal energy activities in the Nova Scotia province.
“It was very sad to see the platforms being removed from our test site in Grand Passage however as a responsible operator we feel this is the right thing to do while we consider our options. This is very disappointing, and such a waste, considering all the investment and support,” Sustainable Marine said.
The country’s industry association for the industry Marine Renewables Canada expressed ‘disappointment’ over the development, calling it a ‘huge lost opportunity for Canada’s clean energy’.
Commenting, Elisa Obermann, executive director at Marine Renewables Canada, said: “Today, Canada’s most advanced tidal energy project led by Sustainable Marine came to a close. Not because of a technology failure or financial challenge.
“Five years of insurmountable regulatory challenges under the Fisheries Act led to this.
“There are solutions to these challenges and it starts with leadership. Great to see Premier Tim Houston’s ongoing support for the marine renewables industry in Nova Scotia.”
Massive blow to tidal energy industry and Nova Scotia’s green energy future
The premier of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston, has also been very vocal in criticizing the federal Canadian government, accusing it even of ‘not allowing Nova Scotia to develop its resources’ and seizing the associated opportunities.
He also specifically said that the federal government ‘shut down’ Sustainable Marine’s tidal energy project, by dragging the regulatory process for so long that the company was forced to abandon it.
In a video address, published on his social media, Houston said:
“This week a Scottish company named Sustainable Marine, that has been active in Nova Scotia and specifically active in the communities around Digby for the last few years, posted a small notice on a bulletin board in Robichaud’s General Store.
“A small notice with big ramifications. Sustainable Marine, the company that has been producing energy from the tides of Digby, is packing up and moving on. Tidal power holds so much potential for Nova Scotia. Tapping into the power of the tides around us has the potential to change the economy, and ultimately, make Nova Scotia a leader in clean, green energy.
“The work Sustainable Marine has been doing is incredibly important for our province, and really for our country, as Nova Scotia has the potential to produce massive amounts of the clean, green energy that the world needs.
“Why then is Sustainable Marine packing it in?
“Well, the federal government shut them down. The federal department dragged its feet for so long that the company is leaving. It’s ridiculous. This is a massive blow to the tidal industry in our region and a massive blow to moving Nova Scotia and the country towards a greener grid.
“Shame on the federal government. You likely know from the media that the federal government is excited about reaching into your pocket and taking your money in the name of the carbon tax. This carbon tax will cost you more, but does little to protect the environment.
“Yet, when faced with real opportunities to make a meaningful, positive change, like tapping tidal power to the green energy grid, an opportunity like the one Sustainable Marine is creating, it’s shut down.
“It makes no sense. I stand against carbon tax. I stand with the real opportunities of tidal and wind energy that can truly green our grid and transform our economy in a very positive way. Where do you stand?”
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