Who’s ac­count­able for the tidal tur­bine de­ba­cle?

The Amherst News - - CUMBERLAND COUNTY - Alan Wal­ter worked in Hal­i­fax. He spends much of his time in Ox­ford, where he op­er­ates a small farm. He can be reached at alan­wal­ter@eastlink.ca.

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

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