Too late to turn the tide

Russell Wangersky
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

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

Geographic location: Hawaii, Scotland

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • SD Redgrave
    SD Redgrave
    April 02, 2013 - 08:18

    Wave energy....predictable and inexhaustible. This was Russell's very well made point. How did it morph into the crap I'm reading posted as "comments". Looking towards the future we may also see "Lightning Generating Stations". It took science hundreds of years to figure out that cumulus clouds do not generate lighting....they act as a conduit (particle trap) for sub atomic particles from outer space, available 24 hours per day whether the sun is out or not. Loads of free energy. Our methods of power generation are primitive and lack foresight.

  • Bruno Marcocchio
    March 29, 2013 - 12:01

    Good commentary. One correction. There is no projected shortfall in 2017. In 2011 at the Joint Panel Review hearings Nalcor testified that it had an adequate supply for twenty years (even accepting their rosy increasing demand projections not supported by recent history). . Alternatives like wave and widely distributed wind generation with even a modest demand side management program can easily meet NL energy needs until 2041. If need that the JRP said is not demonstrated at Muskrat Falls, I wonder what the urgency, secrecy, ironclad monopoly for Nalcor, cost burden shifted entirely to rate/taxpayers and lack of transparency is all about?

  • crista
    March 29, 2013 - 08:41

    to any one that has an interest in life and what is gone on and going on in the world and in society???? you should read the article and the comments and we do not think bussiness man is being a troll????we think he is telling you something and that some thing is what is going on for way bussiness man is seeing it and doing it his way of freedom of speech???? and the way you conduct your way of life???? you speak of a have province look at the way the the have province is being governed???? look at the results????

  • Business Man is an 'alter ego'. He is as upset as I am about the corruption of the NL Politicians and their Business cohorts.
    March 28, 2013 - 12:49

    Maggie Carter, Thanks for your opinion I always enjoy it because you have so much to say that is pertinent to getting our message across regarding the deceitful way the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been treated in Canada ! Maggie, Business Man always gives me the opportunity to remind the readers of these articles and their commentaries that our Politicians, both Federal and Provincial, and both levels of governments collaborated to denude and cheat the province of Newfoundland and Labrador of its raw natural resources, that have been developed thus far, for the benefit of creating economies in other parts of Canada and the World. I, also, know that "BUSINESS MAN" is not the real thing, his sole purpose, I think, is much like mine, that being to get people like me and Christa going to tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that they have been cheated by their politicians and business men our of creating an economy. I also want to give BUSINESS MAN a great heaping Thank-You for doing so, after all he is utilizing a lot of his precious times to do what Crista, yourself and I are doing. We want to get the message out there that we know what has gone on down through the past 64 years and we want it stopped immediately. We want to let those CORRUPT POLITICIANS and BUSINESS MEN who have the influence of their ears know that our Watchful Eyes are on them and sometime down the road they will get what is coming to them for being so CORRUPT! If the Law doesn't get them, if they have a conscience at all, their conscience should do them in!

  • crista
    March 28, 2013 - 12:15

    to the bussiness man, and the student that went to law school we know about the grey areas of the law and that way you are speaking of we found it???? and you say go talk to a lawyer we found that???? you speak of politians we found that???? as for bussiness we found that???? as for the people that get paid to look after society we found that???? and we can go on and on????and now to speak of being used as an example we are NO example we are proof???? now speaking of the call centre it seems like you have some thing going for you as a bussiness man???? and IF you are trying to insult our intelligence you have found that???? and you should know that now???? and we are not being sarcastic we were being insulted with your comments and the way you look at law and bussiness???? and the corruption that goes on in the world and society!!!! AND THE WAY HUMANS ARE TREATED???? now as you would say go talk to a lawyer and find away around this????

  • Winston Adams
    March 28, 2013 - 09:42

    Russell, You mention that the MF scheme is to offset the burning of oil at Holyrood. Mf power will cost more than 20 cents per kwh. Power from Holyrood presently at 19 cents per kwh. We have a Conservation Plan that is spending just 5 million dollars a year to offset some of the Holyrood cost. The conservation measures costs from 2 to 10 cents, which is much lower than the Holyrood cost.But heres the thing: Holyrood oil costs 125 million per year, while our Conservation plan is 5 million. We are raking advantage of just 4 percent of what is economic to do.. We rather burn expensive dirty oil than use clean lower cost efficiency and conservation... which has significant jobs attached as well. The key is to apply the most cost effective measures. Which measures is best is a little technical, but not beyond journalists ability, with a little research, to see and ask the power companies why very cost effective measures are not taken. Yes there is a ban on new generation sources, but no ban ,yet , on Conservation measures. Not a ban, but when we utilize only 4 percent of the opportunities,ask why?WHY,WHY,WHY? That is a more important question that daydreaming about high cost new generation, from wave power. Your piece said nothing about the cost of wave power, per kwh. In a decade or so it may be economic, but not now. The 50 year ban on new sources is ..well , just stupid it seems to me. Perhaps it is better to say it is not wise, as those who promote that plan are in many respects intelligent people. Better to say they have a bias for MF, for whatever reason. Bias is a human trait, but it can be tied to self interest.

  • a business man
    March 28, 2013 - 08:29

    Crista: The resources are not mine, but they are as much mine as they are yours. Regarding the law, the first thing I learned in law school is that the law is grey. Finding ways around the law is not illegal, it is my job by training. Since I invest in businesses, I use the law to serve my interests, often at the expense of someone else' interests. IF there is ever a law you don't like, talk to a lawyer about it. You might find a way around it. To use you example, there is a law that says that I have to pay minimum wage if I have a call center in Newfoundland, but no law that says that I have to keep the call center in Newfoundland to keep jobs here. So I moved the company to Texas, and I pay $7.25/hour. what that means is that for each worker, I put $3 in my pocket every hour by doing nothing.

  • Petertwo
    March 28, 2013 - 06:32

    Well, Crista, I guess it depends on who is writing the laws and who knows them best? I have often thought that perhaps lawyers ought to be barred or something from public office, its like putting the fox in the hen house. Would that be discriminatory, or be being discriminate? Or perhaps learning by experience?

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 27, 2013 - 17:36

    If someone developed this technology here would we be allowed to purchase it?

  • Maggy Carter
    March 27, 2013 - 14:57

    To Crista and others inclined to get upset at the rants from ‘Business Man’, please understand that this guy is a troll. For those unfamiliar with the term, an internet troll is 'someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community for the primary purpose of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion'. Troll motives vary but none are honest, rational or community minded. They are not out to convert you to their way of thinking. Even they don’t believe the garbage they spew. Typically they are frustrated, lonely guys without a social life. Often they suffer some form of psychosis, have a borderline personality or other mental impairment. The only way they get their jollies is by ticking others off. It is best not to engage them. Ignored long enough they will eventually crawl back into their hole. Perhaps we could all agree to ignore this simpleton in future.

    • a business man
      March 28, 2013 - 08:37

      Great! you disagree with my opinions and respond by attacking me. Brilliant! My main point to Crista was that I have no obligation to be community minded or to consider anyone but myself. I understand that you cannot refute that logic, and that is probably why you have resorted to name calling.

  • crista
    March 27, 2013 - 13:04


  • Winston Adams
    March 27, 2013 - 12:49

    Russell, on Sunday,as you watched the power of the sea at Adam's Cove, this Adams was watching the same wave power at Quilty's Cove (Bishops Cove). As an engineer, I have marveled at the power of the sea. I have seen 10 ton boulders moved several feet by the smack of the waves. Being opposite Mad Rock, the waves at Quilty's Cove is tremendous. But this is a difficult source of energy to harness. Your article then goes on to note that we lack a 'culture of conservation' in government and private industry,and so have lost an opportunity. Tidal, like wind and solar, are relatively expensive. They are 'generation sources' not conservation. On the other hand conservation through efficiency is about 1/4 the cost of MF or other expensive new generation. Efficient heating is the greatest conservation device. The telegram published 3 pieces I wrote on this. I have done a pilot study here and filed the results with the PUB on their recent rate application under the Conservation Plan. Yet you nor any other journalist has ever commented on the merits of this proposal or sought opinion from other engineers. And to , such a proposal is not a Jules Verne concept, but vell proven mature technology. What did my pilot study show? An old 55 year old house, with efficient heting has a winter power bill reduction of 40 percent. A newer R2000 house , winter power bill reduced 27 percent. A reasonably well constructed house having a total 'yearly' heating electric power cost of less than $300.00 per 1000 sq ft area. Did you read my recent presentation to the PUB? Other conservation measures too are low cost. Being a windy province, air sealing is very cost effective. While these measures reduce energy customer cost, the savings to the power companies for reduced demand is even greater.Reduced demand means smaller generation systems needed. But I have grown tired of commmenting on this. I get amused by you and others promoting tidal , wave and solar which are likely more expensive alternates, on a firm per kilowatt output basis, than Muskrat Falls, while ignoring proven cost effective conservation. You blame a lack of a Culture of conservation. That is true, But the Telegram has shown no leadership in promoting that culture, not yet. It will come gradually with more expensive power costs. The lack of interest, I now begin to realise, is because our electricity is too cheap. A year ago I would not have suggested this. Efficiency and conservation would have enabled it to stay relatively cheap. High cost electricity is now our future, and a culture of conservation will follow. If this was reversed, it would have been a wiser decision. You are well aware of this, but failed to promote that option. Can't put all the plame on Nalcor and government.

  • Cyril Rogers
    March 26, 2013 - 20:36

    The only dinosaurs here are the provincial government and its minions who are out to fleece us, the consumer, for reasons as yet unknown. All kinds of technologies are, and will be, available down the road to produce electricity, at a fraction of the cost of Muskrat Falls. Will these be cheaper than current power production or even cheaper than Muskrat power. Maybe, maybe not, but the thing is we will pay a huge cost for UNNEEDED power from MF. Incremental power, as needed, using newer technologies will not be cheap but far far less risky than saddling us with a dam that will take close to three generations to pay for. All of these costs will be absorbed by the local consumer. It is part and parcel of the mess this government finds itself in...having failed miserably to develop alternatives and having spent our oil revenues buying elections!

    • a business man
      March 27, 2013 - 11:07

      Cyril, you are correct on many accounts, however, because I stand to make indirect profits from MF outside of Newfoundland, I have decided to support MF completely. I realize that consumers will likely be fleeced as a result of MF, but I have accepted that because it is in my wallet's interests. Accordingly, I am please with the government that I voted for.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 26, 2013 - 11:48

    Actually, GHG emissions from the Large Industry and Transportation (corporate) sectors (if my memory serves) is more than 9 times that of Holyrood ------ 73% versus 8% of the province's total (I erred in my previous post)............ By focusing on Holyrood (the smaller 'public' sector component/emitter), the cost could be loaded unto the backs of ratepayers and the cost to the corporate sector avoided (see So who's best interest is government looking out for?

  • Business Man, despite your Protest to placate your own OUTRAGEOUS GREED, the give-away of Newfounndland and Labrador's Natural Resources for the benefit of other areas is a Crime and Nothing Less, it must be combatted immediately.
    March 26, 2013 - 11:03

    BUSINESS MAN, your "OUTRAGEOUS GREED" makes you want Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resources dispensed in a manner that fills your pocket with lucre, but it is a crime against every Newfoundlander and Labradorian for their natural resources to be dispensed in a manner that makes the province and the average person of the electorate poorer because we have been denied CREATING an economy from our own natural resources. THE GIVE-AWAY OF NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR'S NATURAL RESOURCES BY THE POLITICIANS WE ELECTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF OUTSIDE INTERESTS IS A CRIME AGAIN OUR PROVINCE AND OUR PEOPLE, BY THE POLITICIANS AND NOTHING LESS. IT NEEDS TO BE STOPPED IMMEDIATELY!

    • a business man
      March 27, 2013 - 10:44

      Wrong Answer. This is nothing illegal about my greed and nothing illegal about putting myself before the electorate. IT IS MY VOTE and I VOTE FOR ME. I support political parties that export resources raw.....I vote for them, I donate to them and I go door knocking for them come election time. As I said before, it is my democratic position that the economies of Ontario, Alberta, Europe and the USA are exponentially more important to ME than is the economy of Newfoundland. You may say it is a crime against out people, but you fail to state what is illegal. I honestly don't care about having a vibrant economy in Newfoundland, and I for me economic growth in Ontario, Alberta, Europe and the USA is much more important that economic growth in Newfoundland. There is no law that says I have to support a local economy in Newfoundland; there is no law that says that I should consider my fellow citizens in my decisions or views. Never never forget that there are Newfoundlanders like me who are perfectly happy with what is going on. Sure you may be unhappy, the politicians are elected by citizens. To me it seems that politicians of all stripes regard other economies as more important than Newfoundlands. Those are the politicians I am looking to donate to come election time. Perhaps you should just accept that this is the ways things are and try to cash in on it. I certainly have. I am not interested in fixing problems for Newfoundlanders who are strangers to me. Rather, I see that this is the situation we have, and I do my best to try and make as much out of it as possible. I will not spend my time trying to make things better for strangers, rather, I will focus on maximizing my benefits

  • Newfoundland and Labrador's Politicians need to be brought to justice for how they have given away our natural resources for others to prosper economically, while our province languish economically.
    March 26, 2013 - 10:00

    Maurice what you have written appears to be "EERILY" correct. Politicians have"too much say" over the development of our natural resources and down through the past 64 years they have destroyed the province of Newfoundland and Labrador's chances of getting in on the good economic climate that had created 21 Great Economies throught the Western World, simply because they gave away the rights to our raw natural resource. AND by doing so they gave away the processing jobs, plus we lost our population base and the ability to have grown our population through immigration to appease the whims of Ottawa for the benefit of Central Canada, but no doubt, the politicians benefitted greatly themselves. I want politicians to know that when we elect politicians we are not giving them the right to choose and pick our natural resources to be developed for anyone but our own province to benefit. I think they need to be brought to justice for what they have done over the past 64 years. It is CRIMINAL what they did to their province and their people.

    • a business man
      March 26, 2013 - 10:38

      Please note that I am a newfoundland citizen, voter and taxpayer, and I support giving away the processing jobs and the resources. You may not agree with me, but I do not feel that calling the government criminal is fair when they have done exactly what I voted for them to do.

  • Stephen D Redgrave
    Stephen D Redgrave
    March 26, 2013 - 07:26

    I had the rare pleasure back in1999 of attending a small dinner party in Toronto at the home of a young Canadian fiction writer and her live in boyfriend whom was also a writer with a degree in mechanical engineering. As the night went on we broke off into small groups, engaging in conversation with topics of similar interest. My new engineer friend told me an interesting story of a recent request he had recieved to write an article for one of the larger technology publications regarding what was then a fairly new theory, about the feasibility of wave energy applications. as an alternative energy source. My engineer friend admitted , it was the most challenging request he had recieved in his career as he knew nothing at all about "wave energy" or sub sea turbine application. He went on to say that he researched the topic for only a few days by networking and interviewing researchers currently working on the new technology at facilities around the world. Needless to say, the article was written and published within a few weeks. We spent the rest of that evening discussing what some of the challenges of wave energy would present themselves as research expanded in the years ahead. It seems we were both in agreement, it would be a matter of the development of "seaworthy" components that would ultimately make wave energy a viable source of energy. Basically, bits and pieces that don't rot in sea water. The engineering of such wave energy systems is straight forward and simple. As you've already stated , we're spending a heck of a lot more on the systems already approved and ready for land based production. We have certainly not heard the last of wave energy. Some day it could be imposed on any suitable shoreline with components easily raised for servicing and replacement , reducing expensive and high risk diving assignments. The possiblilities are endless.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 26, 2013 - 07:01

    Muskrat Falls is a 'vision' (and a business model) born in (and copied from) the mind of a cable company owner/operator. --- you have a captive client base --- so just legislate a revenue stream (TAX GRAB). It has nothing to do with 'need'. It has nothing to do with GHG reductions (large industry and transportation accounts for more than 5 times more than Holyrood --- and they are not being touched). It has all to do with taxation by stealth, ratepayers subsidizing mining companies --- and nothing to do withwhat is in the best interest of ratepayers/citizens.