EASTPORT, Maine — “This is only the beginning,” City Manager Jon Southern said Monday afternoon, as he announced the award of $1.4 million in federal funding to establish the first of its kind marine energy manufacturing facility here.
“This is a very unusual grant,” Southern acknowledged of the funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. “Usually you already have a company applying for the grant. We now have to go out and find the company. We are now tasked with turning this into real jobs.”
The project will be the first marine renewable energy manufacturing facility of its kind in the United States, and the EDA grant is expected to leverage another $23 million in private investments.
The grant was sought to fill a nearly-empty manufacturing facility owned by the city with a company that will make parts for use by hydro-generation companies, namely Ocean Renewable Power Company of Portland. Ocean Renewable Power has a satellite office in Eastport and has been working with the city for months to gear up the facility, building on the success of test hydro-turbines that are producing energy in Cobscook Bay.
At a recent Eastport City Council meeting, Ocean Renewable Power representatives said starting up such a company could significantly move the hydropower industry forward in Maine.
Southern said that up to 70 jobs will be created once a company has been found to take tenancy in the Eastport Business Center and to establish the Maine Marine Energy Center.
Maine’s congressional delegation praised the funding.
“This initiative represents another important step forward for job creation and clean energy advancement in Washington County,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said in a prepared statement. “Washington County’s location and dedicated work force make it an ideal place to grow our ocean energy sector.”
In a joint statement, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said, “This innovative project has the potential to create a significant number of jobs and other economic benefits in the Washington County region, and it also will help ensure that Maine continues to be at the forefront of the development of tidal power.”
Southern said there is no time frame for the project.
“We have a lot to work through,” he said. “But this is a significant stepping stone for the city of Eastport.”