Tidal Series: Tidal Energy and The Community

Briefly describe your background as it pertains to tidal energy research.

I’m a professor in the Community Development and the Environmental and Sustainability Studies programs. Exploring community assets, capacities and how these collectively support a sustainable society has been the focus of much of my research. Community and stakeholder engagement, and to a lesser extent, socio-economic costs and benefits of tidal energy development have framed my recent research activities.

How will the implementation of tidal energy development in the Bay of Fundy impact communities and their local resources?

The significance of this question cannot be understated. While Nova Scotians overall have expressed support for renewable energy development and the renewable energy targets established by the province, the overwhelming sentiment expressed is that renewable energy should not come at the cost of significant impacts to communities and natural resources. Opinions expressed about tidal energy development have been no different. We know this rather conclusively because of the extent of community and stakeholder engagement with respect to tidal energy development. The Nova Scotia Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA) has funded a series of projects that have included extensive community and stakeholder consultation. These were the Strategic Environmental Assessments developed for the Bay of Fundy and the Cape Breton regions. Questions guiding these assessments included; can new ocean renewable technologies help Nova Scotia meet the renewable energy targets without adversely affecting the environment and other resources, and how could the new tidal energy technologies and development best contribute to community and regional economic development? Other key research reports based on extensive community and stakeholder consultation were the Southwest Nova Tidal Resource Assessment (2013) and the Mi’kmaq Ecological Studies (2009).

Open houses, public presentations, town hall type meetings, written submissions, one-on-one interviews, and stakeholder round-table sessions characterized the different types and levels of engagement and consultation. These processes (with some notable exceptions) were based on trust, relationship building, and transparency. With respect to engagement with First Nations, it was important to recognize that while project proponents and researchers might communicate and engage First Nation communities and organizations, the duty of consultation falls to the Crown. The Proponents’ Guide: The Role of Proponents in Crown Consultation with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, was developed by the Province of Nova Scotia to guide consultation with First Nations. Although a range of issues were identified by communities and other stakeholders, what emerged early in these processes was a collective consensus that tidal energy development should proceed cautiously and with a measured approach reflecting, in some respects, the tenets of the precautionary principle. This is the approach that the Province of Nova Scotia has adopted.

I have been fortunate to play a role in several of these community consultation processes and others as well to support the development (with my co-authors) of the Community and Business Toolkit for Tidal Energy and the Tidal Energy Community Engagement Handbook. My task in working to create these documents was to engage local community members in order to better understand their perspectives on tidal energy development. Some meetings occurred community open house style while others were informal conversations at local lobster ponds, across kitchen tables, or in parking lots of the village store. What I learned was that community members were less interested in how tidal energy might enable the province to reach its renewable energy targets, reduce GHG’s, and/or support regional and provincial supply-chain development. What concerns most community stakeholders are impacts to fish and marine mammals, the creation of local jobs, the reduction in the costs of energy, and disruption in their local way of life. More importantly, community members often expressed a desire to be consulted earlier in the development process and wanted to believe their opinions might make a difference in planning and development of tidal energy. Community and other stakeholders potentially impacted by tidal energy development have been encouraged that the government appears to have listened to many of their concerns.

What is your hope for the future of tidal energy development in the Bay of Fundy?

I am optimistic that we can sustainably develop tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy. This can occur at both a community and utility scale. In addition to working to understand what is required technologically, environmentally, and financially; significant efforts have been made to understand community perspectives on this development. A notable exception to this occurred with Halcyon’s tidal barrage proposal for the Scot’s Bay region. There was little if any prior community consultation prior to sharing their concept plan for this development. The fallout was significant with an overwhelming rejection of this plan by the community and other stakeholders. While the concept is not necessarily dead in the water, there has been very little communication from the company since their initial public meetings.

On a final note, my optimism for tidal energy development or other renewable energy development for that matter is also based on the fact that this type of development can provide unique opportunities for our small rural coastal communities. Total economic impact of a 5 Megawatt tidal energy facility in Digby, for example, is estimated to be $46 million. Of course there are many assumptions that underlie this estimate but this provides a glimpse of the economic possibilities from this type of development in our rural communities. But while critically important, economic development is not enough. With it must come opportunities to enhance and build upon community assets and capacities in the region thereby strengthening social capital. Tidal energy development that occurs with this dual-focus in mind – to strengthen our communities both economically and socially and with respect to the environment – will have addressed many of the concerns articulated in community and stakeholder engagement sessions.