Down East becoming tidal energy test bed

Posted Nov. 13, 2009, at 9:47 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — Tidal energy, solar power and the future installation of a wind turbine will make the Eastport U.S. Coast Guard Station one of the “greenest” in the nation, Northern New England Commander Capt. Jim McPherson said Friday.

McPherson was explaining the projects to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, on Friday morning as they toured the Eastport station.

The pair arrived aboard a Coast Guard helicopter, and their first stop was the Coast Guard dock in Eastport Harbor.

The tidal power project, a small underwater turbine that will generate additional electricity for the Coast Guard station, is the first to be used by the Coast Guard but one of several already under way and testing on both sides of the border Down East.

The $100,000 project in Eastport will be used to test tidal technology in Cobscook Bay, home to some of the largest tidal variations in North America. The groundbreaking project could be the forerunner for similar projects at isolated Coast Guard stations in Alaska, McPherson said.

Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co., which began testing a prototype underwater turbine off eastern Maine in December 2007, will install a larger prototype, intended to light the Coast Guard pier and heat rescue boats so they’ll be ready to launch at a moment’s notice, McPherson said.

McPherson said that if the tidal turbine is placed out in the bay, it will generate more power because of the stronger currents, but it will be easily accessible if it is closer to the station. “That’s the decision we are currently making,” he said.

Chris Gardner, Eastport port director and chairman of the Washington County commissioners, told Collins and Allen that the project is a perfect example of a private and public partnership.

“Sometimes the Coast Guard, in a working fishing community, brings with it a bit of consternation,” Gardner said. “Not here. The relationship here in Eastport with the Coast Guard is something to be heralded. They are part of Eastport’s family.

At the same time McPherson was outlining the Coast Guard’s tidal project to the dignitaries, Ocean Renewable Power Co. announced it will launch Energy Tide 2 early next year, a separate tidal turbine project in Cobscook Bay, to demonstrate the performance of the commercial design of its proprietary turbine generator unit.

Ocean Renewable tested its product in 2008 and expects to install the first full-scale, grid-connected tidal turbine generator unit in Maine by the end of 2010.

“Once launched, the ET2 will deploy the largest ocean energy device ever installed in U.S. waters,” Chris Sauer, president and CEO of Ocean Renewable said in a prepared statement. “We’re excited to make such advancements to our unique technology, expanding our project development efforts in the nation’s most promising tidal and river energy resources, and delivering the ongoing benefits of tidal energy to our host communities.”

ORPC is one of the few companies in the world to generate electricity from ocean currents without using dams or impoundments. The company holds preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is in the process of obtaining FERC pilot project licenses for the most robust and viable tidal energy and river current sites in the U.S., including Western Passage and Cobscook Bay in Maine, as well as Cook Inlet and the Tanana River in Alaska.

Also this week, Nova Scotia Power announced that with its partner OpenHyrdo, it began installing the first commercial-scale, in-stream tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy. The 1-megawatt commercial-scale turbine reached the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy deployment site in the Minas Passage on Thursday afternoon, according to Nova Scotia Power. The turbine was fully deployed Friday and is now operational, rotating with the tides, collecting data and producing energy.

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