Tidal energy presents ‘untold opportunities’

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on July 26, 2011
John Woods, the vice president of energy development at Minas Basin Pulp and Power Co. Ltd., stands on the company’s wharf, where he hopes to see tidal turbines built in the near future. (Ashley Thompson photo)

Minas Basin Pulp and Power Co. Ltd. (MBPP) is paving the way for coastal communities in Nova Scotia to compete in a growing industry.

In 2008, the provincial government gave MBPP, a Hantsport-based pulp and power production company, the go-ahead to develop North America’s first tidal power observation facility — a multi-million dollar project that would, eventually, bring tidal energy to Canada.

Three years later, the completed Fundy Tidal Energy Demonstration Facility, which is operated by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) institute, enables experts to evaluate the performance potential of in-stream, energy-producing turbines in the Minas Passage, while monitoring the impact the energy-extracting technology has on marine environments.

The world-class test facility, located 10 kilometres west of Parrsboro, is expected to be ready to host four tidal turbines, each connected via 64 megawatts of submarine cables, by 2012.

 

Harnessing energy

Minas Basin Pulp and Power is partnering with Marine Current Turbines Ltd. of Bristol, England, to design and deploy one of those turbines in the high-energy environment.

“Once the 64 megawatts of cables are installed, the demonstration facility can boast of having the largest tidal infrastructure in the world,” said John Woods, the vice president of energy development at Minas Basin and chairman of FORCE.

“Next summer, with the cable infrastructure and four technologies, really, the world focus will be on the Minas Passage and the Bay of Fundy.”

Based on the average energy consumption in Nova Scotia homes, Woods estimates the tidal turbines will generate enough electricity to support 2,000 houses annually.

Woods says Minas Basin’s strategic location on the coast of the Bay of Fundy gives the business a competitive advantage in the tidal power industry.

“Hantsport is 35 kilometres, sailing distance, from the best tidal site in the world,” he said, during an interview July 20 at the company’s historic headquarters.

“We have a project out there that has a total value of $112 million.”

He said it takes roughly three hours to access the site off the coast of Parrsboro by boat from Hantsport.

This direct accessibility, Woods says, makes it easier to maintain than the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) — the world’s first and only other test facility for tidal energy convertors, which is nestled amid the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland.

“There’s two in the world — ours, and theirs,” he said, noting that it often takes maintenance workers two flights and a 45-minute boat ride to reach the centre.

Woods said Minas Basin is pleased to be in a close second in the world race to harness renewable energy from the ocean, at least for now.

“We’d like to be just behind them and let them learn the expensive lessons, and we’ll learn the lesser ones,” he said.

“Nobody can afford to make the same mistake twice, so it is very much an international collaboration on tidal energy.”

 

Leading-edge technology

Woods said Minas Basin Pulp and Power and Marine Current Turbines have taken an innovative approach in the engineering stages of the SeaGen turbine’s development that will make Nova Scotia a world leader in the tidal-energy industry when the turbine is deployed in the Minas Passage.

“Our unit is scheduled to go in the sea in 2013. It will have no gravity base. The other three turbines will have a very large, heavy base, which will hold them to the sea floor,” Woods said, adding that MBPP’s model is small enough to be fully submerged at low tide.

“Our approach will be to drill a pin in the (sea) floor and attach our generator to the pin, thereby eliminating hundreds of tons of steel, and… eliminating costs,” he explained.

“It hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world.”

Woods says MBPP is working with their partners to conduct tank tests overseas that will test the integrity of the technologically-advanced turbine they intend to drop in the fast-moving Bay of Fundy waters that have the highest tides in the world.

“We hope to have activity in the Minas Passage next summer, (installing) the pin. The drilling machine will be there.”

He anticipates the turbine will be fastened to the pin in the following spring or summer.

“Unlike the others, ours will float. If you release it from the pin, it will come to the surface much like a balloon would, or a buoy.”

 

Job growth ahead

Authorities in Bristol and Hantsport will have the ability to release the turbine from the sea floor through remote-control access at their headquarters when maintenance is required. The work, Woods says, will happen on site or at MBPP’s wharf — where he hopes to see the turbine built in late 2012.

“We have every intention of building the unit here in Hantsport, on the Minas waterfront or adjacent to it.”

Building the turbine, Woods says, would require hiring more staff to get the job done and would mark a return, of sorts, to the Town of Hantsport’s shipbuilding roots.

“We think that the approach to build it in Hantsport is quite an undertaking. We have a dock that’s 160 metres long; we can use that for construction or we can build it adjacent to the dock and slide it in to the water at high tide,” he said.

“We’re starting to think about how we can create a manufacturing facility on our property or on adjacent properties.”

Scott Travers, the president of Minas Basin Pulp and Power, says MBPP is responsible for about 180 direct employees and roughly 500 to 600 spinoff jobs.

If the tidal project progresses as planned, Travers sees this number growing substantially.

“The energy portion of our portfolio certainly will demand all levels of employment,” he said.

He says the business thrives because it is rich with employees who share a common desire to create change that will have a positive impact on the environment they operate within.

“That’s what really drives us, motivates us and, at the end of the day, that’s what keeps us going,” Travers said.

In the 1990s, Minas Basin Pulp and Power, a business founded in 1927 by the entrepreneurial efforts of Roy Jodrey, started using recycled cardboard, rather than trees, for production at the paper mill.

“This operation has allowed the government to ban corrugated waste to the landfills and, in so doing, we’re improving our environmental footprint here in Nova Scotia,” Travers said.

“The waste that was normally going to landfills is being redirected to this mill. We’re one of the biggest recyclers in Eastern Canada.”

Travers says the “huge” tidal energy project is one of many examples of the innovation that keeps MBPP alive and well.

“Not all of our eggs are in one basket.”

 

A wake-up call

Woods says Minas Basin’s advances in the tidal-energy industry could potentially benefit any seaside community in Nova Scotia — especially if the company proves turbines can be built outside of Halifax.

“The Fundy region has got to figure this thing out and create the industry,” Woods said.

“If we can do it in Hantsport, why can’t we do it in other coastal communities?”

He says coastal communities in Nova Scotia can each play a vital role in growing the tidal-power industry.

“This is staring us in the face,” Woods said.

“There are just untold opportunities here, and wherever there is an ocean.”