EASTPORT — A Coast Guard station in eastern Maine is the first federal facility anywhere to use tidal power as an energy source, officials said today.

Coast Guard Capt. James McPherson was joined by Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and other officials to celebrate the launch of a tidal power demonstration project at the station in Eastport.

A 60-kilowatt tidal turbine launched in March by Ocean Renewable Power Co. began providing grid-compatible electricity to the station’s 41-foot search-and-rescue boat last week. The underwater turbine is powered by water current flows, much the way wind turbines are spun by moving air.

The project shows that tidal power can be harnessed for Coast Guard and other federal facilities, McPherson said. After the 60-day demonstration ends in October, the project will be evaluated in hopes of applying the technology in places such as Maine or Alaska, where extreme tides and fast currents make tidal power appropriate, he said.

The region of Maine where Eastport is located has 20-foot tides and 6-knot currents.

“It’s just a demonstration project, and it’s modest,” McPherson said. “But I say Alexander Graham Bell just called Watson in the next room for the first phone call. You have to start somewhere.”

It makes sense for the Coast Guard to try to harness tidal power because tides are predictable, McPherson said.

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico also underscores the need to go after alternative energy sources, he said.

“We’ll never have to worry about a 200 million-gallon water spill,” he said.

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