June 01, 2020
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Tidal power structure bound for Eastport

BANGOR, Maine — The steel and composite frame was impressive enough just sitting on the blacktop Thursday afternoon next to a fabrication plant near the Bangor International Airport.

But when it is placed in the water next month, Ocean Renewable Power Co.’s underwater Turbine Generator Unit, or TGU, will make an even bigger splash.

The TGU device, designed to harness tidal power in Cobscook Bay near Eastport, will have a capacity rating of 60 kilowatts, making it the largest ocean energy device deployed in U.S. waters.

Portland-based Ocean Renewable unveiled parts of the TGU — the generator and support structure — on Thursday at the offices of Stillwater Metalworks, which fabricated the steel components and assembled the 46-foot-long, 14-foot-wide, 11-foot-tall frame.

The generator and frame, which together weigh about 9 tons, will leave Bangor today, bound for Washington County, where turbines and foils will be attached. In less than a month, the TGU should be providing power to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Eastport.

“This is a great day in the state of Maine and for the city of Bangor,” Ocean Renewable president Christopher Sauer said Thursday. “The jobs that we create with tidal energy are not just centered on the coast. As you can see, we’re creating jobs all over the state and in the middle of the state.”

Ocean Renewable has grown from four Maine-based employees last year to 17 combined in Portland and Eastport, Sauer said, and the company has created or retained another 80 jobs total at companies around the state, including Stillwater Metalworks. Ocean Renewable has spent about $5 million in the past two years, he added.

The tidal power device will be deployed March 2 about 25 feet below the surface at a site off Shackford Head. Sauer said a demonstration barge anchored at the site would be visible from the road into Eastport. Tidal power captured by the underwater turbines will be stored in batteries on the barge.

“We call it a virtual transmission line,” Sauer said. “The batteries will be shuttled back and forth to the Coast Guard, and they will be using that energy” to keep an emergency vessel in ready mode.

Energy Tide 1, which went into the water in December 2007, was Ocean Renewable’s first research model.

“If you look at the equivalent of this for that project, it really looks like a Model T now,” Sauer said, gesturing to the steel and composite frame behind him. “But it was an important project because that project proved that our technology works. Now what we’re going to prove is that we can do it on a commercial scale.”

Energy Tide 2, which has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 20 homes, will not be connected to the public power grid because Ocean Renewable does not have its pilot-project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Sauer said he hopes to be licensed by the end of the year, so that Ocean Renewable’s next-generation design, which the company plans to have in the water next year, can be connected to the grid. That device will be capable of generating up to 200 kilowatts of power, he said.

Cobscook Bay is considered an ideal location for a tidal energy generator because it has among the highest tides in the world.

“There is more flow in that location than [almost] any other location in North America,” said Michael “Mick” Peterson, who teaches engineering at the University of Maine in Orono. He is one of the university’s leaders in tidal energy research and attended the unveiling Thursday.

Haley Viehman, a civil engineer who is working on a master’s degree in marine science, has been doing research at the site.

“Right now we have baseline data we took without the turbine in the water,” she said. “As soon as this is mounted we’re going to go out and monitor again to see if there are any changes in the patterns of the fish we see.”

That kind of research was not as much of a priority during Ocean Renewable’s Energy Tide 1 phase, but it is now.

“This unit will have the latest state-of-the-art technology in monitoring aquatic life,” Sauer said. “We’re focused much more on what, if any, interaction there is between our technology and the marine environment.”

Stillwater Metalworks co-owners Chris Higgins and Mike McCullagh said they are excited to be part of the tidal power project.

Their company has been in business since 2002 after starting as part of Bangor’s business incubator, the International Enterprise Center.

“It’s tremendous,” Higgins said. “It’s so different than anything we’d worked on. It’s truly awesome.”

Harbor Technologies, a spinoff company of UM’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, manufactured the all-composite hydrokinetic turbines at its Bath facility.

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