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Tidal Pioneer towing the PLAT-E 4.6 environmental monitoring platform out of Grand Passage NS en route to AF Theiault at Meteghan to be hauled out and dismantled.Sustainable Marine/Handout

A Scotland-based energy company that had been harnessing tidal power in the Bay of Fundy pulled the plug on its Canadian operations last week, accusing Fisheries and Oceans Canada of blocking a project that had been bringing a small amount of green energy to Nova Scotia’s heavily fossil-fuel-reliant grid.

Sustainable Marine Energy towed its platforms to shore last week, and put its 20 engineers, technicians and vessel crew on notice that they will soon be unemployed.

The company’s chief executive, Jason Hayman, said the federal department has refused to authorize the next steps for the project, known as the Pempa’q Tidal Energy Project, which would have provided up to 9 megawatts of electricity to the grid by harnessing the movement of enormous tides in the Minas Passage.

He said the project is dead unless Fisheries and Oceans Canada, also known the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or the DFO, finds solutions quickly.

“At this stage, it’s looking like it’s too late in the day,” he said. “This is destroying the credibility of Canada as a place to invest in technology projects.”

Sustainable Marine received $28.5-million in federal funding, and has provided tidal energy to the grid since last year. The company uses platforms with turbines mounted underneath. The turbines, smaller and stubbier than wind turbines, are driven by the flow of the water, which rises and falls nearly four storeys twice a day in the Bay of Fundy.

The project had been operating in the Bay of Fundy’s Grand Passage. The company wants to move its equipment to the Minas Passage for the next phase. But Mr. Hayman said the DFO has not authorized the move because it has deemed the project high risk and likely to harm fish and marine animals. He said the department has not explained its reasoning.

DFO spokesperson Matthew Dillon said the department is still willing to work with Sustainable Marine. But under the federal Fisheries Act, he added, companies are required to provide adequate plans for monitoring impacts on fish and fish habitat.

Mr. Hayman disputed the suggestion that he hasn’t provided an adequate monitoring plan. He said he has made three applications and consulted with the DFO. “What they’re saying they would like is technically unattainable at this stage,” he said. “They want to see each and every fish that passes through the turbine and know what species it is.”

The DFO said it can’t address questions about the company’s application because of privacy concerns.

Mr. Hayman said the department has refused to provide a clear pathway or regulatory framework for the project. Since 2018, he added, his company has extensively monitored the impact of the project in Grand Passage and found no evidence of any fish or marine animals being harmed.

But Mr. Dillon said there is a considerable difference between Grand Passage and the Minas Passage.

“The Minas Passage is an area with fast moving tide, that is narrow, low visibility, where two species of risk (white shark and inner Bay of Fundy salmon) pass through,” he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has entered the fray. In a statement, he called out the federal government for having an “unconcerned attitude” toward an opportunity to green the province’s grid. The province has set a goal of meeting 80 per cent of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2030.

“This is a massive blow to the tidal industry in our region. The potential for the Bay of Fundy, the potential for tidal energy is significant for Nova Scotia and Canada,” Mr. Houston added.

Elisa Obermann, the executive director of Marine Renewables Canada, an advocacy group for the marine energy sector, said a lack of regulatory certainty under the federal Fisheries Act is a significant challenge for the industry as a whole.

“We are supportive of a robust permitting process, but it needs to be transparent and proportionate to project size and associated risks,” Ms. Obermann said. “Right now, that’s not the case. With climate change being the biggest risk to the environment and marine life, government needs to find ways to facilitate clean energy projects.”

The $28.5-million that Sustainable Marine received from Ottawa was one of the largest-ever government investments in tidal energy. At the time of the announcement, in 2020, Seamus O’Regan, who was then natural resources minister, said the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, create new jobs and demonstrate a method of harnessing tides as a reliable source of renewable electricity.

Almost 75 per cent of Nova Scotia’s 3,061 megawatts of electricity is generated from fossil fuels, 47 per cent from coal.

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