I was happy to hear this morning that a joint venture of European companies has received a permit to begin investigating the viability of a wave energy project off the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Clayoquot area. Looking at the state of the ocean energy sector in British Columbia, I feel that this latest announcement is a positive step, but more is needed.
As the global economy slows, governments are stimulating economic activity by investing in infrastructure projects. In B.C., the time is therefore ripe for the government to support clean, renewable ocean energy (both tidal and wave technologies). With a shoreline that spans somewhere near 27,000 kms (including all islands and inlets) and, according to Mike Tarbotton of Triton Consultants, an estimated 89 potential sights to develop tidal electricity generation plants, B.C. has the potential to be one of the world's most prolific producers of clean and renewable tidal and wave energy.
However, the government of British Columbia has not yet made a significant investment in ocean technologies nor provided the kinds of incentives (i.e. tax credits or reimbursement of development costs) that will allow B.C. to live up to its potential. It is fair enough to say that other technologies such as hydro (and particularly run of the river), natural gas and wind power are more mature industries with lower entry costs, but public procurement, investment in research and development and incentives are critical to spur the development of commercial grade ocean energy technologies and thereby mature this viable method of power generation. The lack of government support and the significant hurdles still facing ocean energy producers in B.C. was recently highlighted by the fact that no ocean energy initiatives has yet to receive funding from the government's $25-million Innovative Clean Energy Fund and that not one ocean energy initiative was put forward in response to B.C. Hydro's Clean Power Call.
B.C. should be following the lead of the U.K., but need only look closer to home for inspiration - the government of Nova Scotia, who has, amongst other things, created a framework to study and demonstrate tidal energy technologies in the Bay of Fundy. The Fundy Institute of Tidal Energy is currently testing three tidal energy technologies in the Bay of Fundy Minas Passage. One of the three projects is being developed by Vancouver's own Clean Current Power Systems. It is not that there are no ocean energy projects underway in B.C., to the contrary, there are three that have garnered publicity lately, namely:
- Clean Current's tidal project at Race Rocks, off the southern tip of Vancouver Island;
- Finavera Renewables's 5 mw wave energy project off the shores of Ucluelet;
- New Energy Corporation and Canoe Pass Tidal Energy's tidal project between Quadra and Maude Islands; and
- BC Tidal Energy Corporation and Marine Current Turnbines' tidal project in Discovery Passage, near Campbell River.
Now with the Clayoquot announcement, that makes five (I realize that there may be other projects out there - so if I've neglected to include one, please let me know!). With this low level of activity already occurring without much government help, I hope that the B.C. government shows leadership on this front and gets our ocean energy sector to work off our shores.
For a more detailed treatment of this topic, an article entitled Ebbing Away by Michael McCarthy in the Vancouver Courier, dated July 11, 2008 is a good start.