Tidal Power is a Natural Fit in Nova Scotia

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.

Emerson may have believed that, but most folks in Nova Scotia — on Canada’s east coast — would disagree. The ocean is the province’s alpha and omega. In spirit, if not fact, Nova Scotia is an island, barely connected to Canada by a narrow isthmus. Nova Scotians share more than 5,000 miles of undulating of coastline, and no one lives more than 50 miles from the sea. Most people can walk there easily.

And now the cold waters of the North Atlantic will be providing power for Nova Scotians, thanks to the ebb and flow of the world’s highest tides. The Bay of Fundy has a broad, conical shape that funnels rough ocean waters into the Minas Basin, creating a rich breeding ground for the endangered Northern Right whale, and enormous opportunities for tidal power.

The project is called FORCE — Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy — and it just garnered $20 million in federal funding, $11 million of which will be used to install four subsea cables in 2011. Each test site cable boasts a 16 megawatt (MW) capacity, for 64MW in total, and each 34.5-kilovolt cable is designed to allow adding more tidal devices in the future. With a combined length of 11 kilometres, the total capacity of all four cables will be about 64 devices, enough to power more than 20,000 homes.

Tidal power is still in its infancy, but it has enormous potential, especially in places like Nova Scotia where the tides are so prodigious and consistent.

Certainly, Atlantic Canada needs more clean energy. Most electricity in Nova Scotia is produced by coal-fired power plants run by Nova Scotia Power. The utility has access to cleaner burning natural gas found off the province’s coast but, like most utilities in North America, the company burns carbon-heavy coal to keep energy prices low.

But that’s starting to change. About a year and a half ago, Nova Scotians elected a New Democratic government which has been exercising what might best be described as pragmatic progressivism. According to Premier Darrel Dexter, the province now has a plan to transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Nova Scotia has aggressive renewable energy targets, feed-in tariffs, clear regulations and an incredible natural resource with the largest transmission capacity for in-stream tidal energy in the world.” says Dexter. “All of this combined is helping to establish Nova Scotia as a world leader.”

That is certainly overstating the matter, but the research and development is certainly helping the province make the most of a clean, abundant natural resource. The Nova Scotia legislature is now studying the technology, and will create new marine energy regulations before approving any additional projects.

Hopefully, it will be a one-two punch. The same, rugged coastline that so delights tourists also holds offwind resources that would literally knock your socks off. In fact, some analysts have suggested that it could power a sizable chunk of the eastern seaboard renewably.

With wind and tidal power, Nova Scotia could actually become the cliché: the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. Only time will tell, but this seems like a promising first step.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.

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