Maine company leading way as tidal energy comes of age  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Portland Press Herald has an article on the first commercial tidal power generation in North America, in the Bay Of Fundy - Maine company leading way as tidal energy comes of age.

The tide is running out of Passamaquoddy and Cobscook bays, transforming the miles-wide ocean passages around Eastport into fast-running rivers.

To the east of this easternmost American port, the Western Hemisphere's largest whirlpool is surging to life, creating a vortex capable of sucking a small skiff into the abyss. Here on the west side of town, the sea is fleeing Cobscook and, unwittingly, generating electricity for the Ocean Renewable Power Co.

Slung beneath a specially built barge moored near the bay's mouth, a sailboat-sized turbine spins in the 4-knot current, generating a clean, renewable and predictable flow of electricity. It's a 50-kilowatt prototype that ORPC is developing for use in rivers, a small cousin to the 60-kilowatt device it tested here last year.

On Tuesday, however, the company will unveil its first full-scale commercial unit at a ceremony here: a cylindrical module as big as a Grand Banks fishing schooner with long curved turbine foils. Sometime next month, it will carefully attach the module to a mount already awaiting it on the Cobscook sea floor a mile farther up the bay from here. The company will attach cables linking it to new transmission lines on the Lubec shore and, with the push of a button, the 180-kilowatt turbine will begin selling power to the grid, the first of a new class of damless tidal energy devices to do so anywhere in North America.

Tidal power, long in development, is finally coming of age, with a Maine company leading the way.

"What ORPC is doing in Cobscook Bay is really a very important milestone," said Paul Jacobson, an ocean energy expert at the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electrical Power Research Institute. "With this project, these tidal power devices have finally crossed the threshold into commercial development."

There's much more to come. ORPC plans to add two more turbines to its Cobscook site in the coming year, and as many as 18 in the faster, harsher waters of Passamaquoddy Bay on the other side of Eastport by 2016.

"Maine is where it all started and where the lessons are being learned," said ORPC's president and co-founder, Chris Sauer, who calls Eastport the "Kitty Hawk" of his nascent industry. "Maine will become the intellectual center for tidal energy, with the people and knowledge base for how to do this."

The Eastport area has Maine's highest tides -- 20 feet -- because it is perched at the mouth of the vast Bay of Fundy, home to the greatest tides on the planet. It's the ultimate tidal resource, and ORPC and its foreign rivals are competing to harness its energy.

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