Tidal power online in Maine: milestone for America

October 15th, 2012 

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ORPC's tidal turbine developed with the help of UMaine researchers

In August Maine’s Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) started generating power for the grid from its tidal-energy turbine on the bottom of Cobscook Bay at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, where 100 billion tons of water flow in and out each day with the force of 8,000 locomotives. The Eastport area has 20-foot-high tides.

“Everything is working as it should be, and we are sending power to the grid,” said Susy Kist of ORPC.

It is the first commercial tidal-energy project to generate power to the grid in North America. The project was also the first in the U.S. to receive a FERC license, negotiate a power purchase agreement, and install and operate a power-producing tidal generator.

“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,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The project was supported by a $10 million investment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Maine Technology Asset Fund grants to jumpstart and aid in research and development. Researchers at the University of Maine’s composite laboratories helped design and construct the turbine, which is partially made of composite materials.

“This historic moment elevates the U.S. to the world stage,” said ORPC President and CEO Chris Sauer. “We are now ready to bring our tidal-energy-power systems and expertise to the international market.”

The ORPC tidal turbine is mounted on the sea floor, where is spins in the current, out of sight and well beneath the hulls of passing vessels. Tests so far suggest the turbines have no effect on marine life.

Earlier this year, the DOE released two reports that found wave and tidal currents could produce up to 1,420 terawatt hours of electricity per year. The U.S. uses about 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity a year.