An Augusta-based company that wants to develop a $125 million tidal energy project in Cobscook Bay will hold meetings this week meant to advance its venture with state officials, local residents and investors.
Halcyon Tidal Power LLC wants to build a 1,616-foot tidal “barrage,” basically a quarter-mile enclosure in a cove where the Pennamaquan River meets the bay in the Washington County town of Pembroke. The project, which could create enough power to meet the electricity needs of more than 13,000 homes, would make Maine a demonstration site for a technology that could be deployed around the world, according to Ted Verrill, the company’s president.
“If it’s successful, we’ll have a substantial business in Maine,” Verrill told the Portland Press Herald on Monday.
The proposal is the latest power generation project planned for the Cobscook Bay area, where huge tides have drawn interest from energy developers for decades.
The Halcyon power plant would use the pressure from the bay’s massive tidal range to drive the turbines on both incoming and outgoing tides. It differs from the more widely known Ocean Renewable Power Co. tidal power unit in nearby Eastport and Lubec, because it uses pressure from falling and rising tides, rather than currents, to drive turbines.
Although tidal barrages exist in Canada, France and South Korea, Halcyon’s technology is designed to maximize output while reducing environmental impacts. It would use pumps when needed to replicate the natural tidal cycle, as well as turbines designed to allow fish to pass.
The technology and the project’s 24-megawatt capacity are expected to produce electricity at market rates, Verrill said. The company hopes to negotiate a power-purchase contract and be online in 2018.
Halcyon principals will meet on Wednesday and Thursday with staff from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and other officials in Bangor to lay out a study process. The company then is scheduled to be at the Pembroke town office at noon Friday for a public meeting.
Halcyon is also trying to attract $5 million in private capital to cover initial development costs in Maine and a larger proposed project in Nova Scotia.
But like any new energy projects, these ventures have been greeted with some skepticism and opposition.
Two years ago, when Halcyon was first introduced, Pembroke-area residents came to an information session with concerns that included impacts on the bay’s ecology and navigation, and how the project would be maintained and ultimately dismantled.
More recently, more than 200 people turned out in February for a meeting in Nova Scotia, where Halcyon wants to build a $3 billion tidal power project in Scots Bay. Some have organized an opposition movement on Facebook.
Speaking about the Maine venture, Verrill said he recognizes that people have concerns, especially because the structure will be fully visible at low tide, stretching across the cove. The company has produced images that show it appearing like an old Roman aqueduct.
“We’re not trying to be controversial,” he said. “We’re trying to get in the public eye.”
The massive tides in Canada’s Bay of Fundy and Maine’s Cobscook Bay have brought entrepreneurs to the region’s shores with plans to harvest energy since the 1930s, with little success.
In 1984, Nova Scotia introduced the Annapolis Royal Generating Station, a 20-megawatt tidal power unit located on the Annapolis River. It generates power only on outgoing tides.
In 2012, Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. launched the first commercial pilot project in North America that generates electricity from the tidal currents and feeds it into the power grid. The output from the so-called TidGen demonstration unit is tiny, but the company is now working on additional projects around Eastport and Lubec with higher outputs. Rather than take advantage of the 24-foot tidal range in Cobscook Bay, as Halcyon seeks to do, TidGen captures the strong currents, or hydrokinetic energy.
Halcyon’s founder, Ramez Atiya, picked Pembroke in 2010, targeting a tidal basin that runs from Leighton Neck to Hersey Neck. The project site is near a popular natural attraction called Reversing Falls Park, where visitors can witness the power of the water as the tides ebb and flow.
Residents have mixed views of the project, according to Milan Jamieson, who chairs the Board of Selectmen.
“There’s interest,” he said. “But there are people who are skeptical. They’re worried about what’s going to happen to the bay.”
Jamieson said he’s neutral, but eager for any economic boost the project could bring to his rural community of 75 year-round residents. Most jobs are in lobster fishing, although some folks commute to the pulp mill in Woodland, he said.
Halcyon will face the challenge of showing local people how its tidal barrage differs from what’s commonly thought of as a dam, according to John Ferland, vice president of Ocean Renewable Power Co.
“I think Halcyon is trying to make the case that they have something innovative and they want the opportunity to discuss it with people,” Ferland said.