Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tidal turbine spot found

Location near Parrsboro in Bay of Fundy eyed for electricity project

Chris Roper reads pamphlets at the Seaeye booth near a Cougar XT remotely operated vehicle Tuesday at the Canadian Underwater Conference and Exhibition in Halifax. (CHRISTIAN LAFORCE / Staff)

It has been quite a challenge, but scientists believe they have found the ideal spot in the Minas Basin for three underwater turbines that will use tidal power to generate electricity.

However, powerful Bay of Fundy currents have destroyed expensive tidal monitoring equipment used in the quest to find the best spot.

"We have broken two (current meters), so we have about $100,000 in destruction so far," said Simon Melrose, who runs Oceans Ltd., in Nova Scotia.

The ocean research and offshore weather monitoring company also has offices in Newfoundland.

Last year, the Nova Scotia government announced successful bidders who will put pilot demonstration turbines in the Bay of Fundy in the spring.

Mr. Melrose, an expert in ocean applied science with Oceans Ltd., is carrying out oceanography for the tidal project for Minas Basin Pulp and Power. The Hantsport firm won the contract to build a tidal energy test facility, a large part of the project that includes designing and operating a structure to receive electricity from the turbines and process data.

Scientists have been busy searching for a level spot for the turbines about 40 to 50 metres underwater, where the tide flows in a linear direction instead of swirling in numerous directions, Mr. Melrose told the Canadian Underwater Conference and Exhibition in Halifax on Tuesday.

To date, scientists involved with the project have made about five boat trips to the Bay of Fundy to collect data.

The preferred site "hasn’t been confirmed, so it is provisional site," he said. "It is to the west of Parrsboro, to the northwest of Black Rock. That is the area we are looking at. We are trying to be within two to three kilometres of the shore."

Scientists with the project have found the currents are moving much faster in the Bay of Fundy than thought, which could mean more electricity if the energy can be harnessed.

"If you look at the charts, (the currents are) six to seven (nautical miles per hour) and we are seeing peaks of up to 11. It may be that particular site has too much for technology at this point and we have to push further back into less vigorous sites."

Scientists cannot put the turbines in the many areas of the Bay of Fundy where large rocks are moving underwater that can damage the turbines or in areas where the sea floor is moving and swirling.

"If you are putting down a structure, you ought to put it down onto a base that is solid," Mr. Melrose said. "At the same time, we don’t want to have to excavate, drill or anything else because it is very expensive."

The data was last collected on the Bay of Fundy in the 1970s, when tidal monitoring equipment was not as sophisticated.

"New technology does allow us to look through the water column and measure all the different layers, but you still have to get (equipment) into the water and out of the water, and that has been the challenge. It has proven to be expensive in terms of damage, and it has been proven a challenge to get clean, tidy, crisp data.

"We are winning, but it has been quite a project so far."

Work has progressed to the point that an application will soon be made to the provincial and federal governments for permission to proceed. That request will trigger the environmental review process.

The successful bidders who will test turbines include: Nova Scotia Power, which has teamed up with Ireland’s OpenHydro; Minas Basin Pulp and Power Co., which has teamed up with UEK Hydrokinetic of Maryland; and Clean Current of British Columbia.


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