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Minister backs off plan for windfarms in Chedabucto Bay

Guysborough fishers cautiously optimistic about pause

  • November 29 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

CANSO — Vocal opposition from the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association (GCIFA), among other fishers, has prompted the provincial government to walk back a controversial plan to put windfarms in inshore areas, including Chedabucto Bay, Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tony Rushton told The Journal in an interview last week.

“We heard from many fishers,” he said. “There are good conversations now taking place... I don’t want to pit one industry against the other... This is what it looks like for a government to listen and work with one industry.”

Rushton spoke to The Journal following his announcement on Nov. 22 that the provincial government is “pausing any consideration of waters within provincial jurisdiction until the framework for jointly managed offshore areas” is determined.

“Offshore wind is an important part of our clean energy plan,” the news release continued. “We are working with our federal partners to ensure a clear path for sustainable development of this new sector.”

The announcement received a cautious thumbs up from GCIFA.

“They’ve pressed the pause button, which is a good thing,” the organization’s executive director Ginny Boudreau told The Journal in an interview on Nov. 23. “But they haven’t gone away from the idea of developing the inner [Chedabucto Bay] for use of offshore wind...We’re still pushing for a complete stop to any type of wind development in the inner bay.”

Earlier in November, Rushton noted at a public function in Halifax that his department had identified Chedabucto Bay and St. George’s Bay in the Northumberland Strait as potential sites for large-scale wind farms thanks to their strong and reliable winds.

The statements prompted immediate criticism from GCIFA and the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG), which urged Rushton to adhere to the joint federal-provincial Regional Assessments on Offshore Wind Development in Nova Scotia, an extensive public consultation that got underway in Guysborough in early October.

Since then, the five-member panel has traveled to several Nova Scotia communities – including Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Inverness, Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne – to obtain feedback on offshore wind energy development from coastal fishers and others.

In The Journal interview last week, Rushton said, “When we released the [provincial] offshore wind roadmap in June of this year, that was sort of Phase 1 to have some consultation take place...We wanted to make sure that all options were on the table.”

But, he added, “We heard a lot of questions [such as]: ‘Can you just wait till the regulatory regimes are ready for both the waters that we share with our federal partners, and also the waters that we’re more responsible for [at] the near shore of the province?’ So, we’re [trying] to make sure that everybody’s at the table and everybody has a voice.”

Rushton pointed out that the pause does not preclude the provincial government from eventually approving wind development in Chedabucto’s inner bay. “We’re not closing the door on our offshore wind,” he said. “We’re just [waiting] until the regulatory regime process is completed with our federal counterparts... We can certainly co-exist here.”

But, while Boudreau stressed that GCIFA and its members support green energy development, in general, they do not want wind turbines in Chedabucto Bay for practical reasons. “There just isn’t enough room with all the activity that’s now going on there, and not just from [our] industry,” which comprises more than a dozen active fisheries, she said.

Specifically, she noted, several industries share the bay, including cargo vessels and oil tankers with multiple anchorage sites on both north and south coasts, an aggregate quarry in Point Tupper, which ships weekly; another quarry planned for the Queensport area, and two hydrogen and ammonia facilities gearing up. “We are very near capacity. Other industries have also pointed out their concerns [to the provincial government]... It’s complicated.”

A principal objective of the round of regional assessments is to sort through these complexities. By law, the province holds sway over any waters that fall within their political borders and any contained by their coastal headlands, including bays and harbours. Beyond that, federal marine jurisdiction begins at the low water mark and extends seaward for 200 nautical miles. In practice, multiple levels of government – federal, provincial, municipal, international and Indigenous – influence Canadian coastal management.

Boudreau said that the provincial government’s decision to wait until the process can be completed is a smart move. “It would greatly benefit” from allowing the process to play out as it would then “at least have a tool to use in their own development [plans].”

MODG Warden Vernon Pitts concurred. Earlier this month, MODG formally supported GCIFA’s opposition to wind development in the bay. In an interview with The Journal on Nov. 23, he said the province seems “more than willing to take input from our fishers and as well as our municipal government.”

He added: “We are working together towards a positive outcome...It’s like my dad always said... The man who invented the pencil was very smart. But he also had to invent the eraser for mistakes.”