3 EARLY SCHEMES TO HARNESS FUNDY TIDES (June 6/16)

We’re about to see it happen – the Bay of Fundy’s tidal power will soon be harnessed. And while there are legitimate environmental concerns that must first be addressed, the unlimited power offered by those awesome Fundy tides will trump everything.

This is a history column, however, and the last place to discuss the pros and cons of Fundy tidal power. However, the history behind early attempts to harness the Fundy tides is interesting. I started writing about those attempts in this and other newspapers over a decade ago and I’m still finding new things about them; some “attempts,” as I found, were mere dreams, some came close to fruition, and other grand schemes were just that – grand schemes that quietly faded away. (column 1, column 2, column3, column 4column 5)

One of the most curious ideas for harnessing the Fundy involved building a combination of a monster bridge with tidal turbines across the upper Bay of Fundy. This was around 1908 and the plan was to run the bridge from the Cape Split side of the Fundy northward to Spencer’s Island, a distance of roughly five kilometres.

As mentioned in an earlier article on Fundy tidal power, this must have been a “paper plan.” That is, the idea for the bridge and turbines was conceived, drawn up on paper, floated (no pun intended) with various financial sources and then forgotten when no one was interested. The paper plan shows a bridge with turbines stashed below it, a bridge with a highway and train tracks.

A lot more is known about a 1916 plan to harness the Fundy tides. This came close to fruition but in the end, lack of financing killed it. A group called the Cape Split Development Company was formed in 1916 and the scheme in general was to pump sea water into 200-million-litre power generating holding tanks at the top of Cape Split. The seawater was to be pumped up to the tanks with generators powered by a series of motors placed on the sea bed. The motors were tide generated turbines invented by an Acadia University professor, Dr. Ralph Clarkson.

The Clarkson motor proved it could do the generating all right but few people were willing to put money up to finance the project. The estimated $2.2 million required couldn’t be raised and the company quietly folded.

Another scheme, in 1925, also apparently ended up a paper plan only. This time it was American engineers who decided they could harness the Fundy tides and generate enough electricity to power the entire State of Maine as far west as Boston and all of New Brunswick besides.

In a despatch from the Canadian Press, dated August 19, 1925, an announcement was made that American engineers believed it was feasible to harness the Fundy tides to “generate 500,000 to 700,000 electric horsepower.” This scheme would use two pools, an upper and a lower, on bays in Maine and New Brunswick to generate electricity. As one Dexter P. Cooper put it, the idea is “feasible from an engineering standpoint and the most promising development in the electric world in a decade.” Cooper was identified by the Canadian Press as the main promoter f the scheme.

According to the Canadian Press story, permission was being sought from the Canadian government and the province of New Brunswick to proceed with the project which involved Passamaquoddy Bay. Passamaquoddy lies mostly in Canada and was one of the bays to be gated to store up tidal water. When the story was released, the State of Maine hadn’t given its approval for the project and maybe it never did.

It isn’t known what happened to this plan to harness the Fundy tides. It sounded complicated and perhaps wasn’t as feasible as thought at the time. Or like the Cape Split project, it mostly likely fizzled out due to lack of financing.

(Thanks to Phil Vogler for a copy of the Canadian Press story on the tidal project.)

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