Hydropower project gives Washington County hope, officials say

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 8:47 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — The water hadn’t yet dried on the ribbonlike blades of an experimental hydropower generator as the CEO of Ocean Renewable Power Co. excitedly talked Thursday about where the company is going next.

Ocean Renewable Power now has officially retired the cutting-edge Beta TidGen generator it had deployed in Cobscook Bay to research tidal power. But with the infrastructure for fabrication and deployment in place for Cobscook Bay, CEO Chris Sauer said Thursday that Ocean Renewable Power will launch a commercial generator next spring that will feed power directly to Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.

“We believe this will be the first permanent project like this in the country,” Sauer said. The 180-kilowatt generator is three times the capacity and size of the experimental unit being retired.

“And next year, we’ll deploy five of them,” Sauer said.

Sauer, other company officials, representatives from surrounding communities and businesses gathered Thursday at The Boat School in Eastport to congratulate each other on a job well done and to officially mark the retirement of the Beta TidGen project.

“Eastport is now known around the world, in Japan, Chile, Scotland, Europe, as a leader in the area of hydropower generation,” Sauer said. “Companies around the world are now asking us questions.”

Sauer said that when Ocean Renewable Power first began researching hydropower in Cobscook Bay, he thought the company might stay a month or so, not the 2½ years the company has put in.

“This project has exceeded all our expectations,” he said.

The 40-foot-long, 37,000-pound Beta TidGen unit has been removed from the bay and will be replaced in March with RivGen, a tidal river generation unit. Now under fabrication, the RivGen turbine — at 96 feet long and 18 tons — will dwarf the experimental generator. It also will be the first turbine that will be anchored to the sea floor.

Sauer said that after performance benchmarks are reached, RivGen will be shipped to Igiugig, Alaska, where it will produce energy for the next 20 years.

Ocean Renewable Power also recently partnered with the Canadian province of Nova Scotia for a turbine experiment off Long Island and with a local company, Perry Marine Construction, that will assemble the turbines. Sauer said that except for the engine and turbine blades, every part, including the massive underwater base structures, are made in Maine.

Eastport was the perfect place to begin, Sauer and others said Thursday.

Jerry Morrison of Perry Marine Construction said it was a great challenge for his company to create the generator.

“It was the first of its kind and we had to design the specifications for the barge specific to this project,” Morrison said. It was accomplished in less than a year through a team effort and Yankee ingenuity, Morrison said. “This area’s work force has always been able to adapt.”

Ocean Renewable Power’s contract has allowed Perry Marine Construction to invest $1 million in a new facility and new jobs, he said.

Ryan Beaumont, a University of Maine graduate and mechanical engineer for the project, said he had never been to Washington County before he was hired by Ocean Renewable Power. “There is no better place to be,” he said. He credited community hospitality with enabling the project to move forward as fast as it did.

Dave Turner, project manager for Ocean Renewable Power, said the company borrowed moorings and gear and enlisted the help of The Boat School, the University of Maine, local businesses and governments, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the process.

“This community has the talent to help us get this job done,” Turner said. “And there are still a lot more jobs coming.”

More than two dozen people now work in Eastport and Lubec for Ocean Renewable Power.

In a statement read at the event, Lubec Town Manager John Sutherland said two of the positive ripple effects are that the project instilled new interest in local students in science and technology and it also has given area people hope that Eastport and Lubec graduates can have fulfilling jobs in the future without leaving Washington County.

Suzy Kist, Ocean Renewable Power spokeswoman, estimated that the company has pumped more than $3 million into the local economy since it arrived in 2009 and $8 million into the state..

“We have outsourced from 13 of Maine’s 16 counties and have hired 25 to 30 contractors — many of them local,” Kist said.

Robert Peacock, chairman of the Eastport City Council, said, “ORPC came to the right place at the right time and jobs have come here.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/20/news/down-east/hydropower-project-gives-washington-county-hope-officials-say/ printed on July 29, 2014