July 21, 2012

Maine company leading way as tidal energy comes of age

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Ocean Renewable Power Co.’s unit awaits installation of turbines. Tidal technologies are inspired by wind turbines and require no dam. The devices are mounted on the sea floor, where they spin in the current, out of sight and well beneath the hulls of passing vessels.

Photo by Jeffrey Hains

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Much of the industry's near-term expansion is expected to be in Nova Scotia, and not only because it has unmatched tidal resources. The provincial government is extremely supportive, having built the Minas test site (for large devices) and provided a premium, guaranteed tariff for electricity fed into the grid from small tidal turbines (rated, like ORPC's, at less than 500-kilowatts) that are community-owned. (New Brunswick's government, by contrast, has largely ignored the sector).

"Nova Scotia wants to be a global leader in the marine energy industry," said Elisa Obermann, regional director of the Ocean Renewable Energy Group, an industry association based in Halifax. "They have the resource and they see it as a significant economic opportunity."

"The Bay of Fundy as a resource is one of the best in the world, and that's why the world is beating a path to Nova Scotia's door to be a part of the development there," said John Ferland, ORPC's vice president for project development. "We have a wonderful opportunity to be a first mover and to leverage the success of what we are doing in Maine."

ORPC's experience in Eastport may have given it an additional edge in partnering with small coastal communities elsewhere in the region. Although founded by people very much "from away," the company has become a genuine part of this tight-knit community, having forged successful partnerships with contractors, fishermen, conservationists and local officials.

"Some people know how to be local wherever they are, and Chris Sauer is definitely one of those guys," said Will Hopkins, executive director of the Cobscook Bay Resource Center, which helped set up meetings early on between the company and fishermen.

"He said, 'We have this concept and we think it will work, but we don't know about Cobscook currents and ledges and anchoring systems, from which you've all made your livelihoods for decades and centuries.' He basically invited people to participate in ORPC's success, and its success has become the community's success."

The company's supply chain extends to 13 of Maine 16 counties, and it estimates it has spent more than $14 million statewide and close to $4 million in Eastport, population 1,600. Once all the turbines are installed in the area, local spending would easily exceed $20 million.

"We have five full-time employees in Eastport right now, and that's like having 1,000 jobs in Boston," said Sauer. "Vessel services, diving rigs, certified marine mammal observers -- we've tapped on a whole pool of local expertise."

Many of the Nova Scotian communities that are looking to tidal power have striking similarities to Eastport. Down East Maine and southwestern Nova Scotia were colonized by the same European settlement wave before the American Revolution. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, when most everyone worked and traveled in boats, there was regular interaction across the bay.

"I think the boys set out to find women on the other side and vice versa. Fishing and sailing traditions brought the communities together," said Fundy Power's Morin, who lives on Brier Island, a community of 300 that he said is not unlike Eastport in its appearance and economic challenges, and is looking to tidal power to help spur development. "On both sides of the channel, fishing is alive but waning, the population is aging, and it's becoming more of a tourism economy.

"Visually they're much the same, beautiful and slow in the winter," he said, "but they share the same currents."

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@mainetoday.com

 

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