Parsons Ocean Power Plant

Harnessing Wave Power in Herring Cove

Parsons Ocean Power Plant at Tribune Head, Herring Cove, was a forerunner in Clean Energy technologies. Built in 1922 by Osborne H. Parsons, the plant generated electricity from the power of the ocean's waves. But this source of energy proved to be a bit too powerful for Parsons' invention...

"Clean Energy" is a term often used to describe wind and solar power. But in 1921, another method of "Clean Energy" called "wave power" was being talked about in Halifax. Newspapers reported that a local man, Osborne H. Parsons, had invented a method to harness electricity from the powerful waves of the ocean, and he was planning to construct his first plant in Herring Cove.

Parsons was born in New Brunswick in 1873 and left school with a grade three education to work in lumber camps. He eventually went to work for Robb Engineering in Amherst where he had access to the tools that would help shape his future. He invented a motor, which he believed could generate electricity from the motion of tides and waves. When he moved to Halifax in about 1917, he received encouragement to build a "Demonstration Plant" at Herring Cove. Parsons Ocean Power Company was incorporated on 20 March 1922, and to raise the necessary funds to build this plant at Tribune Head in Herring Cove, 5000 company shares were sold to the public at $100 each. 

How did Parsons' invention work? His machine consisted of a train of gears and a heavy balance wheel constructed at the machine works of W. & A. Moir in Halifax. Parsons' machine was transferred by boat and installed in a wooden building at Tribune Head. A pontoon or small boat was then positioned outside the building in a three-sided wooden crib where the ocean waves would strike it. The movement of the pontoon, when hooked up to Parsons' machine, converted the wave energy into electricity. 

In 1924, when the Demonstration Plant was nearing completion, an advertisement appeared in several Maritime newspapers urging investors to be in on the ground floor of the Parsons Ocean Power Company. "Buy Today – Tomorrow May Be Too Late," and "This Invention has no limits because the ocean never goes on strike. No capital can tie up the supply. It now costs countless millions of dollars to furnish the driving power that the almighty ocean can furnish Free." The company's office was located in the Roy building on Barrington Street in Halifax.           

In 1925, the company's board members invited engineers and shareholders to their demonstrations at the Herring Cove plant, hoping to show that the force of the waves and tide could be converted to electric light and power. Halifax newspapers reported that on January 11, 1925, as many as 60 shareholders attended one demonstration and were so impressed with the results that they immediately increased their stock subscriptions. In March, 1925, another demonstration was held. Among those present were Professor R.P. Donkin of Nova Scotia Technical College who showed great interest in the invention, and Mr. Frederick E. Darrah of Herring Cove. This demonstration resulted in generating "brilliant electric light from several 60-watt lamps and several smaller lamps." 

The company, according to the Halifax Chronicle of March 24, 1925, intended to build a larger pontoon and anchor it to the shore. "When patented and protected, the machine will be ready for leasing to companies all over the world on a royalty basis. But first, it will benefit the Maritime Provinces with the harnessing of marvelous power of the sea now going to waste along our Atlantic Coast." 

What happened to Parsons' dreams? In Herring Cove, the powerful ocean waves that created the electrical power also destroyed several plants built by the Parsons Ocean Power Company. Parsons continued to perfect his machine, and in 1936, the world-famous engineer, Dexter B. Cooper, showed a keen interest. He visited the site in Herring Cove, declaring that Parsons' invention was worth pursuing. Mr. Cooper died, unfortunately, in 1938 before anything could be done with Parsons' upgraded machine. 

The idea of harnessing electricity from ocean waves continues to be of interest. Several large companies all over the world advertise their ability to bring this method of Clean Energy to the consumer, but Osborne H. Parsons was the first person to prove it was possible.