Tidal power’s moment in the sun

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Somewhere between crashing oil and gas prices, luffing devotion to wind power and darkening enthusiasm for solar farms (thanks, no doubt, to the hardest, overcast winter since the Great Depression), tidal power in Atlantic Canada is enjoying. . .ahem, surging interest in Atlantic Canada.

And, why not?

The Bay of Fundy boasts the highest and lowest tides in the world, or so says bayoffundytourism.com: “Each day 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the (bay) during one tide cycle ­– more than the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers.”

Here’s Wikipedia on the subject:

“The quest for world tidal dominance has led to a rivalry between the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy and the Leaf Basin in Ungava Bay, over which body of water lays claim to the highest tides in the world, with supporters in each region claiming the record.

“The Canadian Hydrographic Service finally declared it a statistical tie, with measurements of a 16.8-metre tidal range in Leaf Basin for Ungava Bay and 17 at Burntcoat Head for the Bay of Fundy. The highest water level ever recorded in the Bay of Fundy system occurred at the head of the Minas Basin on the night of October 4-5, 1869 during a tropical cyclone named the “Saxby Gale”.

To me, it all seems a natural “greenfield” for sustainable energy and associated economic development to me. But, until recently, the line on tidal power, propagated by the world’s industrial polluters whose vested interests include wringing oil and gas out of western sand, is that it’s pie in the sky: Too expensive to consider, too technologically challenging to contemplate.

Funny that. Not too many years ago, that’s exactly what traditional petroleum producers, attached to their land-locked derricks and offshore oil rigs said about fracking.

My, how the tight plays across North America have come home to roost.

A recent Globe and Mail piece articulated the point quite well:

“The oil sands have lost ground as new technologies uncork a flood of cheaper shale oil in the United States. . .‘The fundamental issue is the competitive environment has changed drastically over the last five years,’ said Samir Kayande, analyst at ITG Investment Research in Calgary. ‘The analogy that I think is appropriate is basically like tech’.”

Mr. Kayande elaborated: “In the last few years, a new technology has emerged, and so the incumbents who have made good money in the past doing things the old way are the ones who are threatened. And it’s really the upstarts who have the potential for being the large, significant players in the future.”

Sound familiar?

As it happens, a new technology has emerged in the Bay of Fundy, on the Nova Scotia side, of late. The Irish consortium, OpenHydro, is now ready to install two gargantuan turbines at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, just off the coast of Parrsboro. After years of effort and experimentation and, yes (gasp!), true innovation, these puppies might just feed 20 megawatts of clean, reliable power to the provincial energy grid.

That’s not a lot, compared with the 500 MG in place through wind turbines in New Brunswick, but it’s a valiant start. Just as important, perhaps, is what the initiative says about the future of high-tech, clean-energy manufacturing.

If the Maritimes wants to wean itself from energy politics-as-usual and build the economic capacity necessary to prepare its future for true prosperity, it could do worse than pulling its head out of the western tar sands and look to the east, were the tide is rising.

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