THree men lowering a monitoring buoy into the ocean

Tide-powered clean energy could help West Coast communities ditch diesel

Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new tidal energy pilot project to reduce dependence on diesel in B.C.’s remote coastal communities is set to launch after getting some critical funding. 

The aim is to advance and deploy a small-scale tidal turbine project in the waters off West Thurlow Island to showcase the technology for other off-grid coastal communities interested in generating clean electricity with ocean energy, said Ben Whitby, program manager at PRIMED, a marine renewable energy research lab at the University of Victoria (UVic).

The initiative recently got $2 million in funding from the province’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) fund to advance the proposed Blind Channel Test Centre. 

The project builds on the success of an earlier experiment involving a MAVI tidal turbine in Blind Channel devised to power a nearby private resort and marina on West Thurlow, part of the Discovery Islands chain wedged between Vancouver Island and the mainland, Whitby said. 

Earlier testing at the Blind Channel off-grid tidal power project, near West Thurlow Island, using a MAVI turbine (above) demonstrated the potential of using tidal currents to power off-grid communities.

Tidal currents in the channel regularly reach six knots, or 11 kilometres, and are close to the Blind Channel Resort, which will act as the new demo site for the turbine and associated microgrid system, he said. 

“What we’re hoping to do is to generate partnerships with Indigenous coastal communities and use the Blind Channel centre as kind of a shop window,” Whitby added. 

The tidal project is expected to generate about 100 kilowatts of electricity at full capacity, which should cover 80 per cent of the energy required to run the resort, he added. 

“That would include the accommodations, the marina, restaurant and laundry facilities, so, most of the energy that currently comes from the diesel generators.” 

PRIMED has already partnered with some First Nations communities on exploring the possible use of marine renewable projects for their communities, such the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation’s (MMFN) Yuquot Wave Energy Project on Nootka Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. 

B.C. has a long coastline with great potential to take advantage of ocean energy, Josie Osborne, provincial minister of energy, mines and low-carbon innovation, said in a press statement.  

“But more than 50 coastal communities still depend on polluting fossil fuels for heat, light, transportation and industry,” Osborne said. 

Remote coastal communities are more vulnerable to power disruptions during extreme weather and can greatly benefit from the development of local wind, wave or tidal microgrids to improve energy resiliency and sovereignty, she added. 

“I’m so pleased to see this partnership and how it’s helping communities reduce their carbon footprint and protect our oceans for future generations,” she said.

The Blind Channel Test Centre is slated to come online by the spring of 2025, at which time, interested parties can get a first-hand look at the potential of marine renewables, Whitby said. 

“They will be able to see how much fuel the project is displacing, what the onshore and offshore infrastructure looks like,” he said. 

There are advantages to smaller tidal energy projects being explored on the B.C. coast because they require lower capital investment and don’t face the same regulatory or social resistance or potential environmental concerns larger-scale ocean energy initiatives might, he added.

Eliot Richter, president of the family-run Blind Channel Resort, said he’s excited to partner with UVic and the surrounding local community, which also includes a general store, a small number of residences and a post office, to move away from reliance on diesel fuel.­­­

“With public support, tidal energy has the potential to become a viable, clean energy solution for small communities like ours.” 

Top photo credit: University of Victoria researchers with the Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery’s (PRIMED), deploying a wave energy monitoring buoy above, just got $2 million for a tidal energy project in B.C.’s Discovery Islands. – Photo University of Victoria

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