Is offshore wind energy coming to Canada?

Windmills and stormy ocean

As interest in offshore oil and gas exploration is thankfully floundering in Canada, marine renewable energy is on the rise. These new sources of power include tidal, wave, and most prominently, offshore wind, which promises the ability to provide vast quantities of clean energy and will be an important part of Canada’s climate future. At the same time, as an industrial-scale activity, they have the potential to negatively impact the marine environment, and these must be taken seriously.

The federal government is in the midst of developing new legal frameworks to permit and regulate marine renewable energy. In this blog post, we discuss the current state of offshore wind power in Canada, its potential impacts, and what the federal government should do to regulate this nascent industry responsibly.

Offshore Wind Power in Canada

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that renewable energy will become the largest source of global electricity generation by early 2025. Global wind capacity is expected to almost double, with offshore marine wind projects accounting for 20% of that growth.

Offshore wind power has the benefit of having a higher and more consistent output than onshore wind power, with a worldwide potential of 420,000 terawatt hours (TWh) per year – which was more than 18 times the total worldwide electricity demand as of 2019. The IEA’s Executive Director stated that, as of 2019, “[o]ffshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast. Much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of clean energy transitions.”

However, offshore wind projects do have the potential to harm marine environments. Potential negative impacts of offshore wind power include:

  • Increased ocean noise, which could have impacts on fish, whales, other species and their behaviours; 
  • Introducing electro-magnetic fields that may make it more difficult for fish and other species to navigate, detect predators, communicate, and find mates; 
  • Changes to habitats and hydrodynamics (the movement or flow of water); creating a “reef effect” where marine life cluster around the hard surfaces of wind developments; 
  • Impacts to the life cycle stages of ocean species, such as spawning or dispersal of larvae; 
  • Changes to the composition, abundance, distribution, and survival rates of marine life; 
  • Increased vessel traffic, which could lead to more vessel strikes; and 
  • Releasing contaminants that can be consumed or absorbed by marine life.

Given these potential impacts, offshore wind projects must be carefully and responsibly planned, including by ensuring that they are not proposed within sensitive marine areas like marine protected areas (MPAs).

Most offshore wind power installations around the world are currently located in China and Europe. While Canada currently has no commercial offshore wind projects in operation, it has several at varying stages of development. This consultancy’s website lists 35 offshore wind projects  currently (or previously) in development for lakes and oceans in Canada, 10 of which are proposed for marine areas:

Project Province Stage

Allan Array Floating Wind Farm

BC Concept/early planning

Hecate Offshore Wind Farm

BC Concept/early planning
Nova East Wind Floating Wind Farm NS Concept/early planning
Sea-Breeze Tech Floating Wind Farm NS Concept/early planning
Yarmouth Offshore Wind Farm NS Dormant
St Ann’s Bay Offshore Wind Farm NS Dormant
New Brunswick Offshore Wind Farm     
NS Dormant
Prince Edward Island Offshore Wind Farm PEI Dormant
St George’s Bay Offshore Wind Farm NL Dormant
Burgeo Banks Offshore Wind Farm NL Dormant

Information retrieved from 4C Offshore’s database of offshore wind farms in Canada, retrieved November 29, 2023:

The list above includes two projects in development off the coast of British Columbia. The Hecate Offshore Wind Farm project (formerly known as NaiKun Offshore Wind Energy) would be located off the eastern coast of Haida Gwaii. The project currently has an expired Environmental Assessment Certificate from the Province, but recent news suggests there is renewed industry investment in this project.

The other BC project is the Allan Array Floating Wind Farm. Enterprise Renewables, the project’s proponent, states that it currently holds a 260,000-hectare provincial generation area investigative licence in Queen Charlotte Sound and that it is North America’s largest proposed clean energy project.

Regulating Marine Renewable Energy in Canada

Under Canada’s Constitution, the federal government is largely responsible for regulating  offshore areas, including offshore renewable energy, subject to the rights and title of Indigenous nations. Provincial governments may have a role as well, depending on their particular jurisdiction in marine areas.

In British Columbia, the provincial government has jurisdiction to regulate offshore renewable energy projects in areas where the Province holds the Crown title to the seabed. This includes large areas of the seabed between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii and the mainland.

However, very few regulatory frameworks exist for marine renewable energy in Canada, either at the federal or provincial level. The Province of BC, which currently does not have such a framework, has indicated it intends to evaluate the need for a marine renewable energy legal framework as part of its forthcoming Coastal Marine Strategy.  

1. Federal Offshore Renewable Energy Regulations Initiative

Natural Resources Canada is currently leading the development of offshore renewable energy (ORE) regulations under the Canadian Energy Regulator Act. The regulations would apply to exploration, construction, operation and decommissioning activities related to ORE projects and power lines. The draft regulations are expected in the new year. The regulations will apply to all Canadian offshore areas, except areas offshore of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

2. Nova Scotia’s Marine Renewable-energy Act

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia has enacted a Marine Renewable-energy Act that designates areas of marine renewable-energy priority in the nearshore ocean areas where it has jurisdiction. For areas further offshore, the federal government and the governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have entered into Offshore Accords to jointly manage oil and gas activities in these areas. These governments are now establishing regulatory frameworks under these Accords to permit offshore renewable energy, as discussed next.

3. Federal Bill C-49

The federal government has submitted Bill C-49 to Parliament (its full title is An Act to amend the Canada—Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts). The Bill would amend two federal offshore oil and gas statutes in order to introduce a legal framework for offshore renewable energy for areas offshore of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. These amendments seek to introduce a statutory framework for ORE in the context of the special legal and political circumstances of offshore energy management in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The statutes in question, the Canada—Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act (the Accord Acts) implement agreements entered into by the federal government and each respective province in the 1980s. Currently these laws lay out joint governance frameworks for offshore oil and gas, as overseen by regulatory boards. Bill C-49 would expand the jurisdiction of these two regulatory boards to include offshore renewable energy.  

Map of offshore petroleum administrative areas in Atlantic Canada coloured in dark blue, light blue, blue, orange and yellow

Map from Natural Resources Canada

In addition to adding regulations regarding offshore renewable energy to the boards’ purview, Bill C-49 also makes amendments to the existing regulation of offshore oil and gas. Because the Accord Act areas are jointly managed, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador plan to implement mirror amendments to provincial legislation.

Some of the key amendments that West Coast has been advocating for, in partnership with the national SeaBlue Canada Coalition, relate to marine protected areas (MPAs) and other environmental and wildlife conservation areas. Bill C-49 would allow the federal government to rescind offshore renewable or petroleum-related interests in areas of the ocean that are, or may be, designated for conservation and protection – and would include provisions on negotiating the surrender of these interests and financial compensation.

These provisions are important, as well-managed MPAs are shown to protect biodiversity, increase climate resilience and benefit communities, and both oil and gas activities as well as offshore renewable energy projects have the potential to negatively impact to the surrounding environment.

The  provisions for rescinding offshore energy interests are also important as they will support the federal government’s commitment to establish minimum standards in new federal MPAs, which includes not allowing oil and gas activities. Similar provisions on rescinding oil and gas interests in MPAs are already in place under the Canada Petroleum Resources Act (CPRA), the framework which governs offshore oil and gas elsewhere in Canada, and which West Coast successfully advocated for in 2017. It is important that the federal government also have the power to rescind offshore renewable energy projects in MPAs, given the potential impacts discussed above.

Despite support from both provinces on the federal amendments, Bill C-49 is stalled (as of the date of publishing) due to filibustering in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

What next?

West Coast has requested to appear as a witness at the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Natural Resources hearing on Bill C-49 and will be following the Offshore Renewable Energy Regulations Initiative in detail. We’ll keep you updated as these processes progress, to ensure that Canada’s clean energy future keeps the health of the ocean in mind.

Top photo: Offshore windmills (David Will via Pixabay)

Erin Gray, Staff Lawyer
Stephanie Hewson, Staff Lawyer