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Tests of Downeast Tidal Power System a Success, Company says
08/18/2010   Reported By: Tom Porter

A Maine-based energy company is calling the successful testing of a Downeast tidal power system a "huge milestone" for America's Ocean Energy industry. Ocean Renewable Power Company today announced that its $2 million underwater power system has successfully generated grid-compatible power from tidal currents in the waters off Eastport in Washington County.

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"It's great news, it's huge news," says Chris Sauer, the CEO of Ocean Renewable Power. "We have now done the performance testings of what we call our Beta tidal energy system here in Cobscook Bay, and the results came out exactly on the design curve."

Which means that although the turbine's power output varies due to the tidal cycle, the power can be converted into a format which will enable it to be fed into the grid. Sauer was speaking by cellphone from the middle of Cobscook Bay aboard the testing vessel "The Energy Tide Two", under which the power generator is deployed.

Sauer says this clears the way for industrial use, and, he hopes, the first commercial system to be installed next year in Cobscook Bay -- home to some of the strongest tidal currents in the world. "We're very excited about next year's project. It will be the first grid-connected tidal energy project in the United States."

By late 2011, Sauer plans to have a 150-kilowatt system in place, providing enough electricity for more than 50 homes. By 2017, he hopes to meet the power needs of all Washington County, and beyond.

So far, says Sauer, Ocean Renewable Power Company has created over 80 jobs in eight Maine communities, pouring more than $5 million into the local economy over the last five years. Within the next seven to 10 years, Sauer thinks tidal power has the potential to be a billion dollar industry, creating hundreds of jobs.

The predictability of tides, he says, gives this form of power a clear advantage over other alternative energy sources. "The nice thing about tidal energy is that it's totally predictable -- you know exactly when you're going to be producing what," he says. "With wind and solar, you don't know, it depends when the wind's blowing and it depends when the sun's out. We know exactly when this is going to occur."

"They're a company that has really put Maine on the map as the leader in the tidal power development industry," says Betsy Biemann, president of the Maine Technology Institute, a non-profit set up by the state Legislature to provide financial assistance for start-up technology companies which are deemed to have commercial potential.

Biemann says MTI has provided Ocean Renewable with nearly $1.5 million in state money, mostly in the form of loans. "They are, really, a terrific example of a company that has a strong technology in an important market area where Maine really has some strong human, as well as natural, assets, and they're really leveraging the economic benefit by working with many other Maine companies and contractors."

One factor that tidal power generators must be sensitive to is the impact they may have on the environment. This is where Dr. Gayle Zydlewski from the University of Maine comes in. She's leading a team of oceanographic researchers as part of a three-year partnership with Ocean Renewable Power.

"Over the last year, or actually slightly longer than that, we have been looking at the fish resource in the Cobscook Bay and western passage area around the Eastport region," she says.

The aim of the still-ongoing study, she says, is to find out where particular species of fish are in the bay at various times during the tidal cycle, and what, if any, impact a commercial tidal generator would have.

"Right now we're in the stages of knowing where the fish are when, and, not only to see if there are affects on those, but also to kind of double back to the company to let them know what those potential impacts might be and how they can operate to minimize those impacts, or even change design plans to address any issues."

Ocean Renewable Power has already begun delivering power to one customer, the U.S. Coast Guard, whose Eastport station uses tidal powered batteries in its emergency-response vessel.

The company must get a federal permit, however, before the commercial project can get underway next year.


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