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Tidal energy company blames DFO as it pulls out the Bay of Fundy

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One of the companies trying to harness the power of the Bay of Fundy’s record-setting tides says it’s pulling its floating turbine platform out of the waters off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Sustainable Marine Energy Canada says the bureaucratic barriers put up by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans have essentially forced the company to pull the plug.

“Clearly, something is wrong here, and it needs to be investigated,” says Sustainable Marine CEO Jason Hayman. “It's either there's something fishy going on, or its just complete ineptitude.”

Hayman says the company put $60 million and five years of work into its turbines, which were the first to successfully put power into the grid in Canada.

Now, he accuses the DFO of standing in its way.

“It's really messed up, DFO should not be calling the shots on who gets tested and deployed,” says Hayman.

Sustainable Marine shared video with CTV News it says shows its Tidal Pioneer vessel towing the company’s PLAT-E 4.6 environmental monitoring platform out of Grand Passage to eventually be dismantled. The company says its PLAT-I 6.4 floating tidal turbine platform will be next.

Sustainable Marine’s turbines were the first to generate power into the Nova Scotia grid, says Hayman.

“We’re the first ones to actually deploy and put power onto the grid and actually receive payment from Nova Scotia Power for power,” he says, “so it’s quite bizarre.”

According to Hayman, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has deemed the company’s horizontal turbines are “likely” to harm marine species.

“We don’t know how they’ve made that determination,” says Hayman, “despite the fact we’re using very conventional technology and there’s over 20 years of experience with this technology internationally, and no one’s ever seen a single marine animal or fish harmed in any way, shape or form.”

He says the department won’t show Sustainable Marine the evidence behind its claim.

When asked for a response, an official from the office of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray would only provide a statement.

“DFO has issued several Fisheries Act authorizations for these types of tidal energy projects in the Bay of Fundy, including 4 authorizations for this proponent,” writes Jeff Woodland.

He adds, “…an adequate monitoring plan is needed to evaluate impacts to fish and fish habitat in the higher flow environment in which the project is proposed. To date, adequate information has not been received from the proponent.”

But Sustainable Marine insists otherwise.

“We have given them so much information about our systems lack of effects on marine life,” he says, “as well as (pointing) them in the direction of other experts who could maybe help.”

In a province that has seen other tidal energy projects launch and sink over the of decades, the news generated frustration from Premier Tim Houston.

"Shame on the federal government,” says Houston in a video posted on social media Tuesday.

“You likely know from the media that the federal government is excited about reaching into your pocket and taking your money in the name of a carbon tax,” he continues, “…yet when faced with real opportunities, to make a meaningful positive change…like the one Sustainable Marine is creating, it’s shut down.”

In an interview with CTV News, Houston said he wanted to highlight the apparent discord between Ottawa’s carbon tax and Sustainable Marine’s experience with DFO.

“We just need the federal government to wake up on this, it's really ridiculous what's happened here,” he says.

“If their ultimate objective is really and sincerely to protect the planet and green the grid, then it's not through a carbon tax, it's actually through generating green energy through tidal, through wind, through solar, all these mechanisms,” Houston adds.

Meanwhile, the leader of the official opposition is calling on the Premier to get on a plane instead of pushing politics and targeting the carbon tax.

“I think his time would be a lot better spent going to Ottawa, getting the parties at the table, instead of making social media videos,” says Zach Churchill.

“He scrapped the alternative to the carbon tax that we had, which was a cap-and-trade program here in Nova Scotia,” he adds, “but instead of focusing on solutions for people, he’s more focused on politics.”

While Houston didn’t commit to paying a visit to Murray, he said his government has had contact with Ottawa at the federal level, and he has “raised it with a federal minister” because “this is something we were fearful about for a while.”

Over the past decade, five companies have been approved to conduct tidal energy projects off Nova Scotia shores.

Elisa Obermann, executive director of industry group Marine Renewables Canada, says this latest news is “disappointing.”

“This isn't a technology failure or financial challenge, it’s purely a regulatory challenge,” says Obermann, “so I think that would obviously raise concerns.”

Nova Scotia first introduced specific legislation to support tidal energy, the Marine Renewable Energy Act, in 2015.

But Obermann says similar federal legislation doesn’t exist, leaving only Canada’s Fisheries Act, which doesn’t specifically address the technology advancements in the industry.

The result, she says, is an industry left adrift.

“This isn't just about a project,” she says. “It's about how this project and the industry can also have a positive impact on fighting climate change or reaching net zero targets. It’s a challenge for DFO right now, but I think to solve it, governments need to come together.”

Hayman says unless the tide turns soon, Sustainable Marine’s future in Nova Scotia is now uncertain.

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