03/04/2014 10:17 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

U.K. deal will boost ability to harness power from Bay of Fundy: energy minister

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia does not have the infrastructure in the Bay of Fundy to accommodate its goal of generating 300 megawatts of tidal power by 2020, but it could handle about a fifth of that by that time, the province's energy minister says.

Andrew Younger said Tuesday the transmission infrastructure needed to handle up to 64 megawatts of energy could be in place within the next five years.

"You obviously have to have technology that's working before you hit the 300 (megawatts)," Younger said after signing an agreement on a joint tidal power research initiative with the United Kingdom.

He said the cost of developing tidal power technology is part of the reason behind the memorandum of understanding with the U.K., which already has its own test turbines producing energy.

"By partnering with countries like the United Kingdom, we will get more done, we will get more done faster and we will be able to get to commercialization at an economically viable price a lot faster."

The province's 2012 marine energy strategy calls for the production of 300 megawatts of tidal energy by 2020, which the government says is enough to power 100,000 homes. Younger himself said that goal was ambitious while he was in Opposition.

Corin Robertson, the British deputy high commissioner to Canada, said it can be difficult to harness tidal power.

"I think that's why this MOU and the research collaboration is so important because the technological challenges are considerable," said Robertson, who was also on hand for the signing of the agreement. "But when we get them right and when we work together, it would unlock a huge amount of potential."

Under the agreement, the Offshore Energy Research Association of Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom's Technology and Strategy Board are each contributing $250,000 towards research. The agreement will also result in joint proposals being issued for research projects in both Canada and the U.K.

Younger said the initiative would see knowledge shared between the two countries and save money by eliminating the duplication of research efforts.

Cameron Johnstone, director of the energy systems research unit at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, said the tidal research facility off Scotland's Orkney Islands has developed technological practices that will be applicable in Nova Scotia.

"These practices are being developed in deploying, in servicing and recovering the technology," said Johnstone.

Three smaller research projects spearheaded by Fundy Tidal Inc. are also moving ahead with site identification and environmental assessments.

Dana Morin, the company's director of business development, said his biggest challenge is finding the patience needed to see things through.

"It will take another year before we get machines in the water and probably two more years before everything is up and running," he said.

Younger also said he would be announcing by the end of March which companies will be granted two berths at a federal-provincial tidal testing and research facility in the Minas Passage. He said a commitment to get turbines in the water was part of the government's request for proposals.

"We don't want people holding the berths and not being involved there," Younger said.

Alstom gave up its berth in January to focus on developing its technology in Scotland. Nova Scotia Power vacated after its OpenHydro device was heavily damaged by the Bay of Fundy's powerful currents during turbine testing that began in 2009.

Two other berths at the site are held by Minas Energy and Atlantis Resources.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous versions said Corin Robertson was the acting British deputy high commissioner and had an incorrect spelling of her first name.