Maine Harnesses the Power of the Sea

By Chris Shreve

Each day, 100 billion tons of water flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy along Maine’s eastern border with Canada. Fifty-foot tides generate a force equal to 8,000 locomotives, and a new project is poised to harness that energy and convert it to clean, renewable electricity. The Maine Tidal Energy Project is the first commercial, grid-connected ocean energy project in the country. As part of its initial phase, Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) designed and deployed the first underwater turbine in July in Cobscook Bay, off the coast of Eastport, Maine. It is the largest ocean energy device in the United States, capable of generating up to 180 kWh of power, and its construction and installation have been a boon the surrounding coastal communities.

“Maine is fortunate to be one of the first sites for a gridconnected tidal energy project, and the work being conducted in Eastport is a very positive economic development for the region,” said Ken Fletcher, director of the governor’s energy office in Maine.

The project has already injected $14 million into the local economy, supporting more than 100 local and supply chain jobs. ORPC alone has hired five, fulltime local employees, engaged 40 contractors, and spent more than $4.2 million locally since 2007.

ORPC’s vice president of project development, John Ferland, says his company has benefited greatly from the area’s maritime traditions. “Tidal energy development requires many of the same skill sets and infrastructure of existing marine-based industries,” he said, “and for this reason the local work force has been integral to the success of ORPC’s tidal energy development and operations.”

ORPC leveraged a $10 million investment from the Department of Energy (DOE) to bring its tidal energy device from the laboratory to commercial deployment. And the company’s hub at Eastport and Lubec, Maine, has become an internationally recognized center for tidal energy development.

“This project is a good example of the research investment that is needed to develop tidal technology and achieve commercialization of a full-scale production facility,” said Fletcher. “As with many research related projects, there is a significant upfront investment required if Maine is going to become a global leader in tidal power technology.” When it becomes fully operation in September, the Cobscook Bay project will provide enough clean, renewable electricity to power between 75 and 100 homes. ORPC plans to expand the project, eventually installing enough tidal energy devices to power more than 1,000 Maine homes and businesses. To ensure that tidal energy remains a part of Maine’s longterm energy plans, the Maine

Public Utilities Commission approved terms for 20-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) in April, the first long-term tidal energy PPAs in the country. The commission has directed the state’s three investor-owned utilities to negotiate agreements with ORPC for the project’s approximately 4-megawatt output.

Tidal power represents a significant opportunity to produce clean electricity in the United States, especially along the East Coast, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. Two recent resource assessments from the DOE found that the nation’s waves and tides could potentially produce up to 1,420 TWh annually. When combined with other ongoing analyses from the DOE, these results show that water power—including conventional hydropower and wave, tidal, and other water power resources—can potentially provide 15 percent of our nation’s electricity by 2030.