EASTPORT, Maine — The Coast Guard’s 41-foot search and rescue boat eased away from the dock Tuesday morning, its batteries fully charged by electricity generated from the waters beneath its hull.
Since Aug. 18, a tidal energy generator developed by Ocean Renewable Power Co. has been producing clean, grid-compatible power for the Coast Guard boat.
On Tuesday, the renewable power company and Coast Guard officials welcomed dignitaries and local residents to view up close what they described as the first-ever successful implementation of tidal energy at a federal facility.
“This has put Eastport on the world map,” said Chris Sauer, president and CEO of ORPC. “Folks in Australia, the UK, Chile, New Zealand know all about Eastport, Maine. They’re watching us and hoping it happens to them.”
Sauer called Eastport the “Kitty Hawk” of the developing tidal power industry, which has the potential, he said, to become a $1 billion industry in the city.
Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Capt. James McPherson, commander of the Coast Guard’s northern New England squadron, joined local officials and representatives for U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins for a tour of the demonstration project. The governor said this was the fulfillment of the aborted Quoddy Tides power project championed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1920s and that it has put Maine in the forefront of tidal energy development in America.
“This sends a message across the country: We are doing things here!” the governor said. “We’re on our way to building a sustainable energy future for our state.”
The 60-kilowatt tidal turbine was launched in March for testing and is the largest ocean tidal energy generator in the U.S., according to Sauer. The unit is about the size of a tractor-trailer body and is deployed from the ORPC research vessel Energy Tide 2, and operates about 15 feet below the surface of the water.
The unit was pulled out of the water recently for several upgrades, including monitoring equipment, and was redeployed at low tide Tuesday. It began generating power again once the tide turned.
The unit uses advanced design foil at 18 to 22 rotations per minute to drive the generator.
The energy produced charges a set of battery modules housed on the Energy Tide 2.
Once charged, the modules are ferried back to shore, where they are plugged into the Coast Guard’s electrical inverter unit to provide power to the boat.
“That runs everything on the 41-footer when we’re tied up,” said Chief Petty Officer Austin Olmstead, chief of station at the USCG station in Eastport. “We’re not using any electricity from the grid.”
The batteries provide about five hours of power for the boat, he said.
The 60-day demonstration project also includes acoustic and environmental monitoring in conjunction with the University of Maine.
The information gathered from the project will be used to design the first commercial generator, a 150-kilowatt unit scheduled to be deployed late next year that the company says will provide electricity directly to the grid.
“We feel [the 60-kilowatt generator] performed so well, it’s given us a lot of confidence,” he said. “We’re very encouraged and optimistic that [the 150-kilowatt generator] will be successful.”
Moving forward with the 150-kilowatt project is contingent upon the company’s obtaining the necessary federal permits, Sauer said. The permitting process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is well under way, he said.
Sauer estimated the cost for the commercial unit at between $6 million and $7 million, which includes initial one-time expenses. That unit can be expanded to include five devices that will be the first such array in the U.S. and possibly in the world, he said.
The project also will provide data for two other commercial projects — a river generation project as well as a similar tidal project — being developed for sites in Alaska.
A delegation from Alaska was in Eastport on Tuesday for the event.
The Eastport project so far has created about 80 jobs in eight Maine counties, according to Michaud, who added that “potentially, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Nearly all of the project components were made or assembled in Maine, including the Energy Tide 2 vessel.
Sauer said that within the next five to seven years, tidal power in the Eastport area could generate between 100 and 120 megawatts of electricity and could create between 400 and 600 jobs.