Who’s accountable for the tidal turbine debacle?
Did You Know
There’s an experimental tidal turbine, some 16 metres in diameter and weighing 1,000 tonnes, sitting on the seabed of the Minas Passage, suddenly unsupervised.
It’s a potential environmental hazard with blades spinning and there are no firm plans to retrieve or reactivate it.
While more than $36 million in public money has so far been put into this experiment, the province’s Energy minister, Derek Monbouquette, says of the turbine.… “I have little patience left for it.”
The truth is that of the many participants involved in this project, none could be said to be “accountable” for this debacle, because at the outset no single organization was designated to be “accountable” for its success or failure.
In large-scale projects such as this one, strict project management practices are typically employed that include the stipulation of “accountability” for project outcomes, good or bad, being assigned to a single individual or organization in the project team; while other members of the team assume “responsibility” for delivery of their various contributions to the project.
The home construction business provides a simple example of this approach, where home buyers depend on a general contractor to be “accountable” for the quality of work and materials delivered, and do not have to resort to chasing electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, roofers, etc. who were “responsible” for work done in their fields, to have any deficiencies corrected.
When there are many players involved, this notion of accountability becomes particularly critical to a project’s success. So, let’s review the many players who have played a role in this abortive Minas Passage exercise to date, some of which may well be involved in any future attempts to redo a technology trial in this area.
Top of the list for good reasons are the three provincial ministries of Energy and Mines; Environment; and Fisheries and Aquaculture. They are closely followed by Nova Scotia Power, and its parent company Emera, both of which can’t afford to take a pass on this initiative if the province is keen to move ahead.
We then have the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE), set up outside of Parrsboro, with an annual budget of $1 million, funded by the federal and provincial governments. It’s Canada’s leading research centre for in-stream tidal energy applications, and well worth a visit with a fine interpretive centre sitting right on the Fundy Shore. Its mandate has been to carry out environmental monitoring in the area where the turbines were being trialed, and act as host to the tidal turbine developers.
As for the turbine technology itself, the supplier and operator of the turbine has been the Irish company OpenHydro, majority owned by Cape Sharp Tidal, both companies being financed by Naval Energies, a French concern.
The withdrawal of funding by Naval Energies to OpenHydro and Cape Sharp Tidal in July, coincidentally just days after the latest turbine was lowered into the tidal basin, was what triggered the demise of the trial and resulted in many local companies involved in the placement of the turbine being owed untold millions of dollars by OpenHydro.
I’m not sure how much collaboration there has been between all these players but given the collapse of the project seemed to come as a complete surprise to most involved, it had to be minimal.
Emera, who had a 20 per cent stake in the project, insists it was blindsided by the decision by Naval Energies to pull the plug after investing close to $400 million. Yet, until this March, an Emera executive sat on the OpenHydro board, presumably alongside Naval Energies executives.
The big question, of course, is whether there is an appetite to restart this project, and if so, who would take on the project management role and provide leadership to the new team of players, while assuming sole “accountability” for the success or failure of exercise.
It makes sense for that accountability role to go to the player who has most at stake and most to gain from success of the venture.
While there will be strong commercial interests involved, I believe the logical choice to take on this role would be our provincial government, fronted by the Energy ministry, adopting a professional project management approach to oversee activities and provide leadership with clear authority.
In the meantime, for control freaks like me, who may be intrigued by the notion of “accountability”, there is an excellent five-minute YouTube video you can find by googling “RACI model YouTube” that provides an overview of how this management tool works - RACI standing for Responsibility, Accountability, Consult and Inform - key roles in carrying out significant projects.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and