Tidal energy-generating turbines pitched for Island waters

A Vancouver company has applied to investigate putting underwater energy-generating turbines in three areas around southern Vancouver Island, all within the critical habitat of endangered southern resident killer whales.

Western Tidal Holdings Ltd. — whose president, Tony Irwin, could not be reached for comment last week — is looking at tidal power projects in Active Pass, between Galiano and Mayne islands; Navy Channel, between Mayne and North Pender islands; and at Race Rocks, about 1.5 kilometres off the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

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Written comments are being accepted until March 31 by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, which is reviewing the applications.

“In the case of these specific applications, referrals have been made to local government and First Nations as well as the provincial Ministry of Environment and the federal ministries of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport and Environment,” a ministry statement said. “All potential environmental impacts will certainly be considered in advance of any decision being made.”

But critics wonder why applications are being considered in critical whale habitat and whether the risks have been researched.

There may be technology that would allow such projects to go ahead safely, but slow-moving turbines could be a threat to orcas, said Paul Spong, director of the whale research station OrcaLab.

“Certainly, this kind of technology is potentially dangerous for marine life.”

Spong also argued against a proposal to put tidal turbines in Blackney Passage, used by threatened northern resident killer whales. In November, Nanaimo-based SRM Projects withdrew its application due to public concern.

Simon Pidcock, founder of whale-watching company Ocean EcoVentures, hopes people will let the government know if they have concerns. “I am the first to applaud green energy. But we really don’t know how this is going to affect marine mammals, and it might totally disrupt the salmon runs,” he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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