Tide turns against ocean energy bid

SRM Projects Ltd. withdraws application for investigative license after whale researchers' objections.

PORT McNEILL—SRM Projects Ltd., a renewable energy engineering firm based in Nanaimo, withdrew its application for an investigative license application for Blackney Passage Monday after several whale researchers objected to its location in critical whale habitat off North Vancouver Island’s coast.

OrcaLab, the whale research station on Hanson Island, and SRM Projects Ltd. made the announcement of the application’s withdrawal in a joint press release Monday.

“We see this as a win-win situation,” said Dr. Paul Sprong, founder of OrcaLab. “We are very pleased with how receptive SRM Projects was to the concerns we raised.”

The energy exploration company reached agreement with OrcaLab and other whale researchers that minimizing threats to species at risk and clean energy generation are both important for B.C. The company hopes to go ahead with future renewable energy initiatives, but will take into consideration the concerns of the local habitat.

“Tidal energy is a new and relatively unknown source of clean electrical power in B.C.,” said Scot Merriam, principal of SRM Projects. “While preliminary research and demonstration studies from Europe indicate the promise of the technology, we need to introduce it here in small steps, outside of critical habitat areas, to gain local knowledge and social acceptance.”

Whale researcher and marine educator Jackie Hildering of Port McNeill, author of the Marine Detective blog and a guest columnist for the Gazette, raised questions about the project in recent posts and a column in last week’s paper. At the time, she admitted renewable energy exploration was important for B.C. while objecting to the placement of a power-generating project in critical whale habitat.

“With SRM Projects withdrawing the Blackney Pass application, they have shown a true dedication to sustainability,” she said.

OrcaLab also commended SRM for its move and reiterated support for ocean energy initiatives, provided all proposed projects go through a transparent and rigorous environmental and regulatory review process that includes First Nations and stakeholders.

“One thing is clear,” said Sprong. “There is a crucial disconnect in our land acquisition process if critical habitat areas don’t show up on the B.C. GIS mapping database used by proponents to search for suitable development opportunities.”

SRM Projects and OrcaLab intend to maintain a dialogue going forward to share knowledge as new information becomes available about marine mammals and ocean energy.

“Ultimately, our common goal is to look for ways we can coexist with nature and minimize our footprint,” said Merriam.

The proposed tidal energy application followed the approval of two renewable energy projects previously approved and currently under construction on North Vancouver Island — the Cape Scott Wind Farm owned by Sea Breeze Power Corp. at Knob Hill and the Kokish River hydroelectric project, a limited partnership between the ‘Namgis First Nation’s Kwagis Power and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners L.P., located on the upper Kokish River east of Port McNeill.

A public meeting was held Tuesday evening in Port McNeill, but was changed from an information-sharing presentation by SRM to an input-gathering session for the company.