EASTPORT, Maine — Will the Eastport-Lubec region of northeastern Washington County one day be to tidal energy what Kitty Hawk, N.C., is to flight?
With the imminent deployment in Cobscook Bay of the nation’s first underwater turbine to use tidal power to generate electricity, that seemed to be a vision shared Tuesday morning in Eastport by the more than 200 people who turned out amid intermittent showers for the formal dedication of the nation’s first underwater tidal turbine.
For eight years, Ocean Renewable Power Co. has been working out of Eastport and Cobscook Bay while conceptualizing, fabricating, testing and refining what has evolved into a 90,000-pound, 98-foot turbine. It will be submerged in Cobscook Bay in August at a depth of 82 feet for a year of testing underwritten by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a $10 million grant.
“DOE is very proud to be a part of this project,” Steven Chalk, who oversees the federal agency’s involvement in renewable energy projects, told those assembled at Morrison Landing. “Tidal energy is renewable and predictable and for coastal communities holds great promise.”
Chalk said the Department of Energy anticipates that water-based generation using ocean tides and river currents will provide 15 percent of the nation’s energy by 2030.
“ORPC is leading the charge to tap into that resource to make tidal generation a viable resource,” Chalk said, referring to Ocean Renewable Power Co.
Should testing of the first TidGen unit over the next year prove the turbine to be technologically viable and environmentally friendly, four identical turbines will be phased into use over the next few years. Collectively, they are expected to harness the force of the Bay of Fundy region’s iconic tides to generate as much as 4 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.
During Tuesday’s 90-minute dedication ceremony, federal, state and local officials who have been vocal advocates of the project sang its praises and thanked Ocean Renewable for its technological vision and the significant economic effect the project has had on the Eastport and Lubec communities. By one estimate, the project has pumped as much as $18 million into the economy in recent years, with much of those funds spent locally.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation issued congratulatory statements Tuesday.
“Today’s unveiling of the latest and largest iteration of the TidGen Power System — the first commercial-scale in-stream tidal device — represents a monumental achievement which is a testament to the collaboration and hard work of countless individuals whose unique areas of expertise have made today a reality,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said.
“Maine is well positioned to lead the nation in tidal energy development,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said. “This project is one example of the type of actions we need on a national scale to stabilize energy, prevent energy shortages, and achieve national energy independence.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud recounted in a statement read at Tuesday’s event his years of working with Ocean Renewable Power Co. to bring its vision to reality. “I’m thrilled to see that research and development turned into results that will help increase our energy independence, spur investment, and pave the way for new advancements that will make a real difference for our communities and families,” he said.
Amid a backdrop of Cobscook Bay fog, Down East squalls and a massive, billowing, crane-mounted American flag, Ocean Renewable executives, including President and CEO Chris Sauer, heaped accolades upon those who over the years have provided local, regional, state and even international support for the project.
“Tidal energy has arrived in America,” Sauer shouted as he began his remarks, a declaration greeted by cheers. “And it arrived right here in Eastport and Lubec, Maine. Who wudda thunk it? We are leading the world right now. This has put Eastport and Lubec on the map.”
Chris Gardner, chairman of the Washington County board of commissioners and the director of the Port of Eastport, focused his remarks on thanking Ocean Renewable Power Co. for its effect on Eastport and Lubec.
“ORPC has been tremendous, tremendous to this community,” Gardner said. “Everything they said they were going to do, they’ve done. They’ve shown honesty and integrity and that they are a business that truly cares in a community, region and state that often struggles to determine where their tomorrow will come from.”
Although the ceremony was periodically interrupted by showers and, at one point, a loud clap of thunder, the project’s boosters, including former Maine Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci, endured the elements to mark the occasion.