May 22, 2018
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Despite commission denying permit for Half Moon Cove, developer says dam project not dead

Tom Walsh | BDN
Tom Walsh | BDN
Normand Laberge of Trescott points across the narrows into Half Cove Bay that separates Eastport from Perry in Washington County in this September 2012 file photo.
By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

PLEASANT POINT, Maine — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a third preliminary permit sought by a company that has been seeking to build a dam in Half Moon Cove in order to harness tidal currents and generate power.

However, the developer of the proposed project said Tuesday it is not dead.

The order denying the permit was entered by the commission on May 21. The application was filed in December by Maine Tidal Power, an association of Tidewalker Associates of Trescott and Opportunity Group of Durham, N.C. Tidewalker Associates held the original permit and a successive permit for the project, but the second permit expired in November 2013.

Tidewalker Associates has been seeking approval for a small dam, 1,200 feet long, in Half Moon Cove, which is located between Eastport and Pleasant Point. It would cost as much as $50 million and generate about 9 megawatts, according to earlier estimates by Normand Laberge of Tidewalker Associates.

In the commission order, written by Vince Yearick, director of the division of hydropower licensing, he noted that comments submitted in conjunction with the application for a third preliminary permit raised concerns about the project’s potential environmental impacts. Maine Tidal Power’s communication and cooperation “have been less than ideal,” according to comments filed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which opposed or had reservations about licensing processes.

The commission rarely issues a third preliminary permit to the same applicant for the same site, the order noted, except for some “extraordinary circumstance or factor outside the control” of the applicant.

Maine Tidal argued its project presented extraordinary circumstances because the proposed technology is new. In addition, it must rely on private funding, which it has had difficulty obtaining, according to the FERC order.

“Maine Tidal has had six years to study the feasibility of a proposed project but, based on the record, it appears to be far from ready to file a development application,” the order states.

“The matters that Maine Tidal raises, whether viewed independently or in the aggregate, do not amount to extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, Maine Tidal’s application for a third preliminary permit is denied,” according to the order.

Although its second preliminary permit has expired, Maine Tidal can continue to try to develop the project, FERC noted. In order to do so, however, it must engage in “meaningful consultation with relevant resource agencies in order for it to develop a comprehensive study plan.”

It is the latest in several setbacks for the proposed project. FERC has terminated or dismissed other steps taken by Tidewalker Associates in recent years because of the lack of progress in formulating a study plan.

Laberge said Tuesday that he was not surprised by the turn of events.

“We knew the difficulty we would have getting a third permit,” he said.

Laberge has 30 days to appeal the order but is undecided on whether he will.

Asked if he would continue to try to develop the proposed project, Laberge said, “We’re debating that issue now. … We don’t think it would take that much to submit the study plan to FERC and apply for a license.”

Laberge acknowledged the difficulty in raising financing for the proposed project.

“That’s always been a big problem,” he said.

While other companies have been able to obtain state or federal grants for various power projects, the Half Moon Cove project has not been eligible for such funding because those grants exclude dams unless the project is to improve an existing dam.

The project is not dead, he reiterated.

“We’re just reviewing our options and looking at the site,” he said.

“We’re uncertain as to how we might appeal the decision or restructure the nature of the development. But it’s a good project. … It needs some sort of financial support, and we’re still working on it.”


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