The small wedge of stone beach at Adam’s Cove in Conception Bay North was planed flat on Sunday afternoon, and that’s in itself a gravel miracle. Usually, the beach is berms of loose grey rock piled up over sea-harvested kelp, mounds and moraines and even eskers thrown up in a helter-skelter that defies order.
Sunday was different, because the sea had only one thing in mind. There were great long swells rolling in, swells that caught on the bottom and threw down their tips from 20-foot heights or more, crashing ashore and rearranging the beach like some sort of Japanese stone garden, each pebble swept and wave-raked into position.
Huge water, tons upon tons of it, thrown ashore in that pendular motion that, even if you had been away from the ocean for 40 years, you’d recall deep in your bones the moment you heard it again.
Standing on the rocks, watching the water turn to creamy foam as the breaking waves entrained air bubbles, it was hard not to think of the saying “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Except I was thinking: “Energy, energy everywhere,” and not a bit of it being used for anything more than grinding the sharp edges off of millions and millions of beach stones.
Because that’s what it is: that’s what’s smacking down all around our coastlines, hour after hour, day after day. Year after year. Uncountable megawatts of renewable power in the peaks and valleys of the waves, in the regular tidal currents that push water up our beaches and pull it back down again.
And it’s a technology that’s growing: there are ocean-floor-mounted turbines that gather power from currents, buoys that generate electricity with every single up-and-down bob, strange wormlike chains of devices that bend and fold in the current and squeeze volts out of the ocean that way.
And, no, it’s not all Jules Verne and 20,000 leagues under the sea.
There are wave-power systems supplying electrical power into existing grids in a variety of places — in Scotland and Hawaii, for example — and the Hawaii system, although a prototype, went into service in 2010. There are scores more systems in operation or in testing.
But we’re building a dam — a dam so expensive and far away that it will take almost a full generation to pay for.
Kind of makes you wonder — and not because there’s wave power right now to solve all ills.
To be clear: am I suggesting that Muskrat Falls can be instantly replaced by wave power? No.
Will it solve the so-called 2017 power shortage? No.
But that upcoming problem can be solved by a whole host of short-term conservation measures that would be more effective — and cheaper — than a multi-billion-dollar project thousands of miles away from its customers.
Could wave power be part of the solution?
Yes, just like geothermal power and heat exchangers and a culture of conservation in government and private industry.
But we’re not taking that route. We’re considering what might be called a far more conservative one: we’re betting that the best deal we can think of right now, will also be the best deal that anyone will think of for the next 50 years.
How did we pick that route? By holding it up against just one other option: that we would burn oil for five decades — and once again, that no one would think of anything better in that time.
In other words, we’re betting everything on the flimsy premise that technology will stand still for 50 years.
It’s like suggesting in 1980 that everyone will always own a phonograph or tape player, and that iPads, iPhones and iPods could never appear.
It’s the kind of shortsightedness that we’ll end up paying dearly for.
And to add further folly? Our government has actually legislated that, as far as this province is concerned no one’s allowed to have a new generation idea for the next 50 years.
Maybe it all makes sense — until you see the obvious power of the ocean, right there in front of your face.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.