Full speed ahead on Eastport area tidal energy efforts

Posted Dec. 18, 2011, at 4:54 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — The recent sale of the Eastport Boat School signals the next phase of an ongoing, eight-year effort to harness Downeast Maine’s powerful tides to generate electricity.

Since 2004, the Eastport-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. has been engineering, fabricating and field-testing submersible turbines that convert tidal currents into kilowatts that can be sold to electrical utilities eager to tap into renewable energy sources as a means of weaning customers from costly, fossil-fueled energy generation.

Eastport’s sale of 17 of the 45 acres associated with the boat school property for $300,000 will provide Perry Marine and Construction with a building site to erect a facility that it will use to assemble and deploy the tidal turbines developed by ORPC.

“I have no doubt that this will be a world-class turbine manufacturing facility, given the amount of passion we’ve seen ORPC invest in this program,” Eastport City Manager Jon Southern said at last week’s ceremony marking the sale. “Instead of being just another dying fishing community, Eastport is able to utilize the exceptional talent that ORPC brings to this world-class project that is so needed in these changing economic times. This project is creating technology-based jobs within the marine industry. All of Washington County will benefit from this.”

John Ferland, ORPC’s vice president of project development, described the sale of the boat school parcel as “the shot heard around the world for our business.”

“This property is not just getting utilized, but will be utilized in a hurry as a fabrication and manufacturing facility for the tidal energy system,” Ferland said. “There will be a fair amount of work force training required as this will involve assembly of sophisticated equipment. Perry Marine will not only put the component pieces together as a marine services general contractor, but will be leading the deployment of these systems.”

The core technology, Ferland said, of ORPC’s proprietary “Tidgen” systems is a rectangular, cross-flow turbine that resembles a paddle wheel. In its current configuration, each unit is 98 feet wide and 17 feet deep. When submerged in a six-knot tidal current, the turbines can generate as many as 150 kilowatts of electricity.

ORPC’s short-term plans include installing turbines at two sites along the western passage of Passamaquoddy Bay and moving the energy they generate onto the existing electrical power grid through a Bangor Hydro Electric Company substation at Kendall Head, north of Eastport. Ferlan said a third turbine will be deployed in Cobscook Bay.

“Over time, we’ll come up with other sites,” Ferland said. “We hope to deploy the Cobscook Bay unit in 2012 or 2013 and be finished with the installs of the others in 2016.”

Ferland estimates that the various tasks associated with building an installing the turbines will create 200 jobs, while day-to-day operations once they are up and running will create 20 jobs.

“Maine’s economy is tough on a good day,” he said. “In terms of what we can do in managing our marine resources, tidal energy fits in as a sweet spot. This is a new source of energy and a new technology that, by definition will be expensive, so we have to come at this in small and incremental ways.”

Initially, the three units are being engineered to collectively generate 5 megawatts of electricity.

“Now that we are beyond the prototype phase, what we are doing is focusing on improving efficiency to maximize out put and drastically reduce costs,” he said. “The end game here is not 5 megawatts, but output as high as 80-100. This would be the largest hydro-energy project in the state.”

For information about Ocean Renewable Power Co., visit www.orpc.co.