AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci and the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed an agreement Wednesday pledging to coordinate the regulatory reviews of tidal power projects off the coast of Maine.
The agreement, which Baldacci signed during a meeting with FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff in Washington, D.C., aims to improve the regulatory review process by coordinating procedures and schedules. It also would potentially allow for expedited processing of applications for pilot projects involving tidal power technology.
“Maine is committed to developing our abundant renewable energy resources,” Baldacci said in a statement. “Our state has been aggressive in its pursuit of clean energy to help end our country’s dependence on fossil fuels, and this agreement will help establish a coordinated and responsible partnership between Maine and FERC.”
There is considerable interest in tapping into Maine’s powerful tides as part of the official goal of making renewable power a greater portion of the state’s energy mix. But the technology for large-scale tidal power projects is still under development.
“Tidal energy is where wind [energy] was 20 years ago,” said Dana Murch, supervisor of dams and hydropower projects for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
One company, Ocean Renewable Power Co., has received preliminary permits from FERC for tidal energy sites in Eastport. Ocean Renewable Power has expressed interest in receiving a FERC license for the next stage in its pilot project to generate electricity, according to Murch.
Other companies are also exploring tidal energy in Maine. Although technologies vary, many use forms of underwater turbines to generate electricity from the changing tides and currents or from wave energy.
The agreement signed Wednesday states that regulators in Maine and at FERC will notify the other when they hear about a potential applicant for a preliminary permit, thereby triggering the coordinated review.
State and federal regulators also will agree upon a schedule for processing the applications and identify information gaps before the reviews can be completed.
FERC agreed to consider whether tidal projects are consistent with comprehensive river management plans in Maine. The state, in turn, pledged to take action on water quality certification permits within 60 days of formally accepting an application for processing.
The agreement states that any coordinated reviews must be “responsive to the environmental, economic, and cultural concerns while providing a timely, stable and predictable means for developers of such projects to seek necessary regulatory and other approvals.”
Maine has jurisdiction over all coastal waters within three miles of land, including islands. FERC will consult with Maine on any projects in federal waters that have the potential to affect coastal resources or use of those resources in Maine.
Murch described the agreement as encouraging the state and FERC to “coordinate in ways that are not legally required.”
This is the first tidal power agreement signed by FERC on the East Coast. The agency has similar agreements with the states of Oregon and Washington.
“Today’s agreement is an important step to pursuing hydrokinetic technologies on the East Coast,” Wellinghoff said in a statement. “This commitment by Maine to develop renewable energy sources puts us well on our way to move these new technologies forward and bring benefits to consumers.”