On Tuesday, Maine regulators paved the way for three utilities to get electricity generated from coastal tides.
As reported in the Huffington Post, the Maine Public Utilities Commission has approved a 20-year contract that would get these utilities, in conjunction with Ocean Renewable Power Co., up and running off the very eastern tip by this summer.
Ocean Renewable plans on installing the first underwater turbine this summer on Cobscook Bay as part of a demonstration. The first turbine will produce enough electricity to power 25 homes with plans on installing enough units to power 1,000 by 2016. The company’s ultimate goal is to generate 50 MW at two of the best tidal sites in the world: Lubec and Eastport. There, the tide rises and falls an average of 20 feet daily.
This tidal energy project is also only one of two programs that received pilot project licenses this year from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Verdant Power runs the other project with the hopes of generating tidal energy using the East River in New York City. The biggest difference between the two is the construction of the turbine. Verdant’s looks similar to a wind turbine whereas Ocean Renewable’s has rotating foils that makes it look like a big manual reel lawn mower.
The one drawback has been the proposed cost of the electricity from these underwater projects. Most Maine residents currently pay around 12 cents per kWh while the tidal electricity will cost around 21 cents. However, hopes are high that public support combined with the ever-rising costs of energy produced by fossil fuels will make tidal electricity competitive within five to ten years.
Should Ocean Renewable’s tidal projects work as well as advertised it opens up a world of possibilities. Ocean Renewable even has another project in the pipeline: a collaboration with Nova Scotia-based Fundy Tidal Inc. on installing their turbines in the Bay of Fundy, an even better tidal power source.