Renewable Energy Being Generated but at What Cost?

by chauvin.m on November 25, 2016 - 6:51pm

An article in CBC News by Paul Withers discusses a new tidal turbine that has been installed in the Bay of Fundy that is now delivering electricity to 500 homes. Initially, this seems to be great news, because Canada needs to increase its use of renewable energy in order to uphold our part of the Paris Agreement and investing in tidal energy is a good option as three oceans border Canada, providing easy access to a renewable resource. However, this may be more complex than simply installing turbines and letting them generate electricity. For example, tidal electricity is much more expensive than current electricity in Nova Scotia, costing $530 per megawatt hour in comparison to the current $60 per megawatt hour, according to Withers. The various companies involved say it will take about five years for the price to decrease as technology improves, but for now, consumers are paying the cost with a “rate set through a provincial initiative”.  This presents an interest-based conflict, which is a situation where it is unclear about who should pay for the project. In this case, should consumers be the ones to pay the high cost of tidal energy? I believe that there should be economic instruments (a form of government policy introduced to influence the behaviour of consumers or producers) in place such as Feed-in-Tariffs that would directly subsidize the development of the tidal turbines, meaning the government is covering the costs of the turbines rather than the consumers. It is unclear from the article if an instrument like this is already in place for tidal energy but it is one way the project could be improved.

A cognitive conflict, in which there are different understandings of the situation, has also emerged with this development. Withers states that many lobster fishermen are concerned about the ecological impact the turbine might have on the Bay of Fundy’s marine life. However, the energy companies and a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the Bay claim that they have monitored the Bay since the turbine has been installed and have determined that there have been no negative impacts. This conflict has led many local people to strongly oppose the turbine.

Furthermore, it is unclear from the article if an Environmental Assessment had been conducted prior to deploying the turbine or if adaptive management is being used instead. I was given the impression that adaptive management is being used because it is the process in which the uncertainty of certain actions is acknowledged to be unavoidable so the project is undertaken despite the uncertainties. The effects of the project on the environment are then monitored and it is adjusted as needed. Adaptive management seems to be occurring because the companies are monitoring the current turbine and are still developing the technology for four other turbines being planned for the Bay of Fundy. This would be the best system in order to determine the impacts of this renewable energy source on the marine ecosystem as there is no way to truly determine how the turbine will impact the ecosystem prior to installing it so once they monitor it, they can adjust this and the other turbines if they need to. Overall, Nova Scotia making a more substantial move towards renewable energy is very promising. Once there is more evidence that there are no environmental impacts on the Bay of Fundy, perhaps opposition from local people will decrease and the government will be more willing to fund renewable energy projects such as this one in order to move away from fossil fuels.


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