Maine's Ocean Renewable first on the tidal grid9/12/2012
A Maine company has become the first tidal energy developer to get a commercial project on the grid in North America.
Ocean Renewable Power Co. reached the milestone last week when a turbine in eastern Maine’s Cobscook Bay began producing electricity.
“We’re up and running and working through these early stages of a new project being operational for the first time,” John Ferland, Ocean Renewable’s project development vice-president, said in an interview Tuesday.
Ferland said the 180-kilowatt turbine, which has been in the water since August, is still being commissioned.
It won’t officially be generating power for another few weeks, when the company completes testing and finalizes contracts with electric utilities.
The Maine project is being watched closely by officials in this province, which is also working at developing a tidal energy sector.
In fact, Ocean Renewable has a strategic partnership with Fundy Tidal Inc. of Westport.
The Nova Scotia company has received provincial approval for two Digby County projects as part of Nova Scotia’s community feed-in tariff program.
Fundy Tidal, which has further ventures in the works in Digby and other areas, plans to begin producing electricity in 2015 or 2016.
Ferland said the technology that is now operational in the water near Eastport, Maine, and Lubec is the one that Fundy Tidal may use.
Ferland said the Maine project should give a good indication how the machines will fare in southwestern Nova Scotia.
“This is, in fact, the U.S. side of the Bay of Fundy,” he said while in Wolfville for the launch of the Acadia Tidal Energy Institute.
“That’s why it’s a good match for us over there.”
Ocean Renewable’s TidGen system includes a turbine generator unit that is nine metres off the sea floor and attached to a support frame.
The base was deployed in April while the turbine was installed in early August.
A 1.2-kilometre underwater cable connects the project to the Bangor Hydro Electric Co. system at Lubec.
Ferland said Ocean Renewable is negotiating power purchase agreements with that utility and affiliate Maine Public Service Co. — both owned by Emera Inc. of Halifax — as well as Central Maine Power Co.
The Portland developer has state regulatory approval to install turbines in three sites and generate five megawatts of electricity. That is enough to supply about 1,200 homes with power.
Ferland said the company is starting with one machine but won’t stop there.
“One of the reasons for being in the water with the small projects is to reduce the cost of developing them, to gather the right environmental information through proper monitoring and to work on the efficiency of how the systems operate.
“We’re also learning how to do everything better in terms of installation, retrieval, operation and maintenance.”
Ocean Renewable plans to install two more devices in Cobscook Bay site next year.
Each machine will produce enough power to supply 25 homes with electricity.
The other turbines will be placed in Passamaquoddy Bay — which is closer to the Maine-New Brunswick border — at Western Passage and Kendall Head, starting in 2014.
Ferland called Western Passage “a much more technically complex site.”
“The water is deeper. The current runs faster. The bottom contour is much more irregular.”
Ocean Renewable plans to have 15 to 20 devices in place by the end of 2016, he said.
The Cobscook Bay project will cost $21 million, with funding coming from the U.S. Energy Department, Maine Technology Asset Fund and private sources.
Ferland said the cost of putting more machines in the water will decrease over time.
But the first project is already paying off for the economy of Washington County and the state as a whole, he added.
Ocean Renewable has spent more than $15 million in the state, one-third of it in the local area, to develop the project. In the process, the company has created or maintained 100 jobs.
“We fit right in with the maritime history of these two communities,” Ferland said. “What happens there in terms of the commercial fishery, aquaculture and shipping, all the companies and workers that are involved in those industries have the equipment and the skill set that has been applied to tidal energy.”
Eastport is the service base for the project, which has a supply chain that extends to 13 of Maine’s 16 counties.
Facts about the 180-kilowatt turbine now producing power in Cobscook Bay in Maine:
- The turbine generator unit is nine metres off the ocean floor, leaving a minimum 15-metre clearance at low tide
- The unit is 29 metres long, five metres high and five metres wide. It weighs 41 tonnes
- The unit has four turbines that look like egg beaters lined up single file
- The unit is mounted on a frame 29 metres long, 15 metres high and four metres wide. It weighs 46 tonnes
(The Chronicle Herald)