EASTPORT, Maine — Many visitors to Eastport on Friday may have seen the blue and white barge along the Fish Pier, the barge with the funny shaped turbine projecting from the rear.
What they may not have realized, however, is that the barge is a world-class research vessel — the Energy Tide 2 — and the turbine is Ocean Renewable Power Company’s cutting-edge hydro-power tool, a tool that the company says is allowing it to lead the world when it comes to hydro-power.
An open house on the barge provided an up-close view by the public of the cutting-edge turbine. Nancy Asante of Perry was one of those impressed by the vessel.
“The tidal energy has been there for millenia,” she said. “You are turning it into energy, something that can be exported.”
The 40-foot-long, 37,000-pound unit may have been impressive, but it pales in comparison to the mega-turbine that will be launched in Cobscook Bay next spring. Currently under fabrication, the second turbine — at 96-feet-long and 18 tons — will dwarf the first. It will also be the first turbine that will be anchored to the sea floor. These expansions total more than $21 million.
ORPC, which has also recently partnered with Nova Scotia for a turbine experiment off Long Island, has become a pioneer in hydro-energy.
“When we began, we didn’t even know what questions we needed to ask,” David Turner, project manager, said Friday during an open house on the barge at Eastport. “No one else had done this before. Now, other companies are coming to us for answers.”
More than two dozen people now work for ORPC.
“We are pioneering the technology. We are pioneering the regulatory process,” Suzy Kist, company spokeswoman added. The latest permit application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is 3,100 pages long, she said. “Eastport is at the epicenter of tidal energy in the U.S.”
Researchers and companies from Chile, China, Ireland and beyond have been flocking to Eastport to observe and learn from ORPC’s accomplishments.
When ORPC used hydro-power last year to light up Eastport’s community Christmas tree and charge the U.S. Coast Guard’s search and rescue vessel’s batteries, it was a visual and tangible signal of the project’s success.
But what has been even more meaningful to Eastport residents is the $3 million that ORPC has pumped into the local economy.
“That flows directly into the Washington County economy,” Kist said. “We have pumped $8 million into the state of Maine. We have outsourced from 13 of Maine’s 16 counties and have hired 25 to 30 contractors — many of them local.”
In a recent report to the city of Eastport, ORPC vice president of project development John Ferland said “Our growth is directly related to the strong partnership we share with the city of Eastport and we want to emphasize that this relationship is vital to our success.”
Over the next five years, as the number of projects increases, Ferland said the hiring of employees and subcontractors will increase. He said the first phase of the Maine Tidal Energy Project will begin in Cobscook Bay — the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project — and may well become the first grid-connected tidal energy generating system installed in the country.
After monitoring the Cobscook project for a year, Ferland said he anticipates installing four more devices at the Cobscook Bay site in 2013. He said future commercial installations beyond that will occur at the Kendall Head and Western Passage sites. By the time all the turbines are in place, the project will be a $47 million investment and should create 200 direct and indirect jobs statewide.
“We know from experience that a significant percentage of these jobs — an estimated one third or more — will occur locally because of the direct labor, vessels, equipment and services involved,” Ferland said. Perry Marine and Construction, a recently formed joint venture between Morrison Manufacturing of Perry and CPM Constructors of Freeport, will provide construction management, assembly and deployment services for ORPC’s power
These economic opportunities will grow, Ferland explained, partly due to the Nova Scotia partnership. With Fundy Tidal, ORPC has initiated development of a project in Petit Passage, across the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.
“Our Nova Scotia partners are very committed to local job creation and other economic benefits resulting from tidal energy and look to the Eastport to Lubec area as a model for how private companies interact and collaborate with local communities and contractors,” Ferland said. “Our involvement in Canada will create additional economic opportunities in the Eastport area as ORPC and its Maine contractor-partners establish a supply chain that services projects on the Canadian side of the Bay of Fundy.”
Conducting the tours on the deck of the barge Friday afternoon, Turner said the possibilities for hydro-power are endless. To folks impressed with the first turbine, Turner said “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error in the headline. The story refers to hydro-power turbines only, not wind turbines.