Sitting on a park bench overlooking Dodd Narrows waiting for a call to come through on his iPhone, Tony Irwin noticed considerable tidal energy was moving through the narrow channel.
Not far from where he was sitting, he looked up to see 138 kilovolt power lines spanning Northumberland Channel, connecting to a B.C. Hydro sub-station on Gabriola Island.
With a long and distinguished background in renewable energy development, it didn’t take Irwin long to piece together the location had potential to harness tidal energy that could be directed relatively easily into the provincial grid.
Two years later, Irwin’s Western Tidal Power Ltd., a fledgling company currently backed by small time investors, is entering the investigative stage to determine if the idea is feasible.
Initial research suggests the energy passing through the narrows could achieve three to five megawatts of power.
“Enough to power all the homes on Gabriola and Mudge and a pretty good chunk of Harmac,” said Irwin. “From where I stand, I believe it’s a doable project and if it turns out it is, then I feel a responsibility to pursue this form of renewable energy. Nobody is going to get rich off of this project, but it is something we have to see if we can do. My feeling is if we can’t do it here we can’t do it anywhere.”
Irwin said that the company is in the application stage for an investigative permit that has not yet been granted by the province.
In this phase, public and regulatory consultation is pursued and if the permit is granted, Irwin will then begin researching resource attributes, gathering considerable data, site planning, facility design and performing all due diligence which includes environmental impact and fish and wildlife considerations, all of which could take two years and about $200,000 to complete.
If successful, an application for the demonstration phase, which would include installation of demonstration devices, would be pursued, followed by the commercial phase, which would ultimately see the installation of commercial devices and selling power to the grid and would cost “tens of millions of dollars,” financed with founder equity, grants and venture capital.
Once installed, operational costs would be low and fuel costs to operate the turbines, located 15 to 20 metres beneath the water’s surface, would be zero.
Recently, new tenure rules were introduced by the province for tidal projects in B.C. that have made the application process more streamlined and predictable. Where bureaucracy once proved to be an obstacle, Irwin said dealing with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources has been a breeze, which has encouraged some 20 other applications to pursue tidal energy projects.
“The province has been working quietly behind the scenes and has done an absolutely stand up job in streamlining tidal and wave power application processes,” said Irwin. “We were one of the first projects to come in under the new rules and comparing notes with some previous application from other companies, this has been pain free.”
Irwin added that he will host non-compulsory public consultation on Gabriola and Mudge islands around Sept. 9 to address any questions residents might have. First Nations and other stakeholders will also be consulted with at every step of the application process.
“I want to know what people’s feelings and questions are,” he said. “I think most questions can be easily answered. No, it’s not going to stop boats going through; no, we’re not building a bridge; no, we’re not putting a dam up. Every concern is legitimate. We want to be as open and inclusive as possible.”
According to research, potential tidal energy capacity for Vancouver Island is 3,580 megawatts. Nationwide, it is estimated to be 42,240 MW with 190 possible sites identified as possibilities.
Compared to other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave, tidal currents have the advantage of being reliable and highly predictable which provides stability for the potential customer, B.C. Hydro.
“As long as the moon keeps spinning we can predict the tides for 50 years in advance,” said Irwin. “As far as long term planning goes you can’t beat that.”
A decision on the investigative application is expected later this year. If ultimately approved, the operation could be built in 2016.
Tidal energy Quickfacts:
• Dodd Narrows project would generate up to five megawatts of power, enough to power 5,000 homes.
• Total tidal energy potential for Vancouver Island is 3,580 MW
• National tidal energy potential is 42,240 MW at 190 sites, equivalent to roughly 63 per cent of current electricity demands
• Tidal energy is more predictable that solar, wind and wave energy.