Friday, May 4, 2012

Tidal Power Commercialization Progresses

The moon’s gravitational pull causes ocean waters to ebb and flow all along shorelines all over the world, in some locations more than 20 feet every day. Now the force of all this moving water might actually be harnessed to produce electric power on a commercial scale here in the United States. Last week the Maine Public Utilities Commission set the terms for contracts between Portland based Ocean Renewable Power Company and three Maine utilities – Central Maine Power, Bangor Hydro Electric Company, and Maine Public Service Company – for the purchase and sale of tide generated electricity for the next 20 years. Ocean Renewable plans to install a demonstration turbine in Cobscook Bay this summer, capable of providing enough power for 20 to 25 homes.

Additional turbines offshore near Lubec and Eastport should bring production up to 4 megawatts by 2016 – enough electricity for more than a thousand homes. Maine regulators have set the rate to be paid to Ocean Renewable for this power at a subsidized level of 21.5 cents per kilowatt hour, nearly double the current rate paid by Maine citizens for traditionally generated electricity. The tidal power rate will only be allowed to increase 2% per year over the 20 year life of the term set by the Public Utilities Commission, and it is expected to become competitive with traditionally generated electric rates after five years or so, as fossil fuel prices escalate at a much more vigorous pace.

Ocean Renewable’s turbines are shaped something like an old fashioned reel type lawn mower mechanism, as they will sit on the ocean bottom. Fundy Tidal of Nova Scotia plans installation of similarly shaped turbines in the Bay of Fundy, where even greater tidal forces exist, if the Ocean Renewable project is successful. Ocean Renewable already has a pilot project license for its installation from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Another FERC pilot project license has been issued to Verdant Power for an installation in the tidal basin of New York’s East River, using different shaped underwater turbines that look more like the now familiar windmills dotting the rural landscape across the Midwestern United States.

Ocean Renewable President and CEO Chris Sauer describes his company’s initial installation as “A landmark in the commercialization of tidal energy in the U.S.”

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