EASTPORT, Maine — The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s authorization this week to have Maine’s three investor-owned utilities negotiate long-term contracts for the electricity to be produced by a bank of underwater turbines now under construction in Eastport will help to boost a sagging local economy.
Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Company plans to submerge turbines in waters off the Washington County communities of Lubec and Eastport, where the turbines are being designed and built. Underwater cables will deliver power to an existing Bangor Hydro substation at Kendall Head, north of Eastport, for on-shore distribution onto the power grid. The project anticipates eventual generation of 4 megawatts of output, enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.
Ocean Renewable Power Company estimates that the various tasks associated with building and installing the turbines will create 200 jobs, while day-to-day operations will create 20 jobs.
“This will be the first long-term power purchase agreements for tidal energy in the United States,” the Portland-based company said in a statement released after the Utility Commission’s action. “The PPAs will greatly enhance ORPC’s ability to attract the additional investment needed to complete the project’s build-out over the next four years. They also mean that the significant economic development benefits ORPC has already created in Washington County will expand dramatically, going forward.”
Maine State Senate President Kevin Raye, a Washington County resident and a longtime supporter of harnessing the county’s super tides, said Tuesday the ongoing project will help shore up the local economy and a time when unemployment rates in the county are among the highest in Maine.
“Today is a major milestone in the 80-year effort to commercially harness the vast power of the tide,” Raye said. “For longer than most of us have been alive, it has been a dream deferred. Now that dream will finally be realized,”
Phase one of the installation of the Maine Tidal Energy Project began last month with hard-hat divers installing the bottom-anchored support frame for the first grid-connected, commercial TidGen Power System at Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Cobscook Bay site near Seward Neck, Lubec. The company expects to have the TidGed Power System installed by late summer, and to begin delivering electricity under the PPAs by October 1, 2012.
In fall 2013, the company plans to install four additional TidGen devices at this site, creating a five-device system with a design capacity of 900 kilowatts, enough to power over 100 homes. In addition to Cobscook Bay, Ocean Renewable Power Company’s Maine Tidal Energy Project includes expansion into tidal energy sites in Western Passage and Kendall Head, which would increase output to up to 4 megawatts.
Ocean Renewable Power Company is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Coast Guard concerning how best to mark the locations of the underwater turbines, both in terms of channel markers and navigational charts. The devices would prove an entanglement hazard for draggers and other fisherman who aren’t aware of their locations.
The Maine Tidal Energy Project is being funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and by the Maine Technology Institute. More information can be found at www.orpc.co.