The Bay of Fundy off the rocky coast of Maine has long been known for its high tides and extreme currents. And, dating back to the days of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, many have pondered the possibility of using the energy from those roiling seas to create electricity.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy recognized the first grid-connected tidal energy project off the coast of Eastport, Maine. Built by the Ocean Renewable Power Company, (ORPC), a tidal turbine generator device—the TidGen™ Power System— was deployed into Cobscook Bay. The TideGen device is expected to begin delivering power to the local grid this fall. The project was supported by $10 million from the Department of Energy and infused $14 million into Maine’s economy and has fostered more than 100 local and supply chain jobs. The initial installation will provide power to at least 75 homes.
In a news release from the Department of Energy, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to create jobs and strengthen U.S. global competitiveness. The Eastport tidal energy project represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry, helping to create new manufacturing, construction and operation jobs across the country while diversifying our energy portfolio and reducing pollution.”
The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved initial contract terms for 20-year power purchase agreements, directing three Maine-owned utilities: Central Marine Power Company, Bangor Hydro Electric, and Maine Public Service Company, to negotiate agreements with ORPC, also hoping to attract more private investment in the project.
Tapping into tidal energy, a clean renewable resource, works best wherever changing tides move a great quantity of water, as is the case off the coasts of many U.S. cities where there is a high-energy demand. At the Bay of Fundy, 1000 billion tons of water flow in an out of the bay each day carrying the force of 8,000 locomotives and tides that range up to 50 feet.
In the fall of 2013, ORPC expects deploy four more TidGen devices off Maine’s coast, creating a five-system with a capacity of 900 kilowatts, enough to power more than 100 homes. ORPC’s Maine Tidal Energy Project is planned to expand to additional tidal energy sites in Main and when complete should generate up to four megawatts of clean energy to power more than 1,000 homes. According to the Energy Department, tidal power represents a significant opportunity for new water development, especially along the U.S. East Coast as well as in Alaska and Hawaii.