Marine energy: tidal energy in Maine

At the direction of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, three of the state’s electricity distributors will purchase electricity generated by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) — the company leading the Maine pilot project. Once finalized, the contracts will be in place for 20 years — making them the first long-term tidal energy power purchase agreements in the United States.

The implications of these agreements are far-reaching — helping to advance the commercialization of tidal energy technologies. The project, which has brought more than $14 million into Maine’s economy and created or helped retrain more than 100 jobs, is supported by $10 million in funding from the Energy Department.

For the pilot phase of the project, ORPC will deploy cross flow turbine devices in Cobscook Bay, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. These devices are designed to generate electricity over a range of water currents — capturing energy on both ebb and flood tides without the need for repositioning.

ORPC expects to complete installation on the first cross flow turbine by summer 2012, installing four additional turbine devices by fall 2013. Once complete, the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project is expected to generate enough electricity to power 75-100 homes in surrounding Maine communities.

After running and monitoring this initial project for a year, ORPC will expand its Maine project to nearby areas — installing additional power systems over the course of three years. The goal is to increase the project’s capacity to 4 megawatts — enough power to generate electricity for more than 1,000 Maine homes and businesses.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Water Power Program supports the launch of innovative ocean power systems, funding cutting-edge prototype tests, demonstrations, and pilots that will lead to commercially viable renewable energy technologies.