In-stream tidal energy initiatives are rapidly developing in Nova Scotia, but there remains a high degree of uncertainty regarding the nature and extent (in space and time) of environmental implications of energy harvesting activities. This report outlines a science-based environmental risk assessment and decision-making framework for the developing in-stream tidal energy industry. It lays out a set of practical criteria and related risk indictors for consideration when planning and reviewing projects. This guidance document offers an approach that would help facilitate a consistent, objective and efficient environmental review, regulatory and follow-up process for the tidal energy industry in Canada.
The framework and guidance offered can also be used to inform tidal energy proponents of the minimum information that should be included in initial project descriptions or registration documents, and of the priorities for baseline studies and monitoring. In addition, the framework can help identify evaluation measures or trigger points for adaptive management actions of approved/ongoing projects such as: modification of project or mitigation measures; ceasing operations and/or removal of devices; or further detailed or formalized environmental assessment.
Section 1 provides some background on the in-stream tidal energy sector in Canada and Nova Scotia and the need for the development of an environmental risk assessment and decision-making framework that specifically addresses the unique aspects presented by this type of development. The current federal and provincial regulatory processes that relate to the developing tidal energy industry are briefly summarized in the Appendices.
Section 2 describes the guiding principles underlying the risk assessment and decision-making framework. These principles include:
- Appropriate consideration of ecosystem-scale and cumulative effects;
- Acknowledging natural changes;
- Use of precautionary and adaptive management approaches to deal with uncertainty;
- Early initiation of baseline studies;
- Consideration of site-specific and project-specific characteristics;
- Social values and concerns; and
- First Nations engagement.
Section 3 presents a regulatory decision-making framework and provides guidance for project proposals. The process involves seven main steps:
- Define the scope of the review;
- Evaluate the project site characteristics;
- Evaluate the environmental risk of the project proposal based on a set of standard defined criteria and indicators;
- Identify risks of interference with other human uses of the ecosystem (e.g. fisheries, recreation);
- Categorize the overall risk of the proposed project and make a management decision;
- Define supplementary mitigation measures to reduce the overall risk of the project, where applicable; and
- For an approved project, prepare an environmental monitoring program that incorporates adaptive management principles.
Given that it is not possible to define universally applicable quantitative threshold values, the environmental risk assessment is based on a set of standard defined criteria and indicators that:
- Are relevant, flexible and can be consistently applied to projects of any type, size or location;
- Address directly or indirectly the major environmental concerns related to the operation of in-stream tidal devices;
- Relate to specific and characterizable attributes of a development project and the environment; and
- Are based on current scientific literature and expert judgment.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations, including the need for the development of protocols for environmental monitoring, data collection and dissemination, and stakeholder engagement. A focus on case study scenarios that address environmental risk assessment and monitoring needs for a range of site types / conditions and tidal energy development levels (demonstration to commercial arrays) is an important next step.