PORTLAND, Maine — In April 2013, the first tidal generator in the Western Hemisphere to connect to the power grid stopped working.
By August, developers knew they could not fix the waterlogged generation unit.
Since then, the pioneering Ocean Renewable Power Co. has kept its tidal generator out of the Gulf of Maine near Eastport. Now ORPC wants to make sure the delays don’t jeopardize its 20-year power contract.
The company said in a recent filing with Maine regulators that it expects to get its new generator online by mid-2019. That’s a longer period offline than its contract with Emera Maine allows. The current agreement otherwise would expire April 21.
Company representatives are asking regulators to amend that contract, allowing the generator to be offline for 90 months instead of 48.
While the generation unit has been out of the water, ORPC President and COO John Ferland said the company has continued to improve components of its technology.
“There’s a bit of adventure to it that you try to structure to the best of your professional ability,” Ferland said in a telephone interview.
In the request, the company detailed challenges not previously reported publicly about its tidal generation project.
After a design flaw took the generator offline in 2013, the company went after the manufacturer who made it. A third-party review found they had a valid warranty claim, ORPC wrote.
But before they could get a new generator, its manufacturer Comprehensive Power Inc. filed for Ch. 7 bankruptcy.
“This left ORPC without access to manufacturing or technical support for the generator design and, since the generator design was unique, without an alternative supplier,” the company wrote.
ORPC began the search for another supplier, which would need to build a replacement. By December 2014, its first effort with Maryland manufacturer RCT Systems had fallen apart.
ORPC moved on to the Norway-based Rolls-Royce Marine. ORPC plans to test the new generator this year.
Meanwhile, ORPC continued work on a smaller river-driven version of its generator. Ferland said work has improved its tidal generation designs, too.
“We have reduced a lot of the numbers of surprises or underperforming components,” Ferland said. “They haven’t all gone away, but our experience level has provided us with greater assurances of success.”
The company plans to deploy the first commercial version of its river generator in 2019, he said.
ORPC is still working toward deployment of a 7.5-megawatt commercial tidal power project northeast of Eastport in Western Passage. The company in July received a preliminary permit from federal regulators to study the area.
Its pilot project site will play a role in that, helping to test different components and designs for its tidal generator.
Its sister company, ORPC Solutions, will help federal researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory study energy potential in Western Passage later this year.
The company also added to its total of federal grants this year, receiving about $5.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to improve its tidal generation system.
The University of Maine is also testing some components of its tidal generation system, Ferland said.