June 10, 2010 - tidal power in Maine in the 1930s

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I've been reading the 1937 Federal Writers' Project book Maine - A Guide 'Down East' in the past days. I was first drawn to the description of my home territory, including the tide mill at Winnegance. This reading in turn pointed me at the grand Passamaquoddy Power Project.

It is interesting to see how writers in 1937 viewed the linkage between tidal energy development and economic development and growth . Take, for example, the Guide's description of Lubec:

LUBEC (alt. 80, Lubec Town, pop. 2983), 11 m., has had greatly increased activity since the beginning of the Passamaquoddy Power Project (see Tour 1N). It is a picturesque seaside village with beautiful views of surrounding bays and coves.

At the time, Maine was viewed as having vast mineral resources, needing only affordable energy to develop:

The clays that form enormous deposits around Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Bays and elsewhere are particularly rich and promising sources of bauxite, the only ore of aluminum now in commercial use. The existence of cheap power, which the completed tide-harnessing project at Quoddy would supply, should make the development of this important resource economically possible.

Maine - A Guide 'Down East' at 10.

The description of the Passamaquoddy Project echoes these values:
The electricity generated at Quoddy would be greater than the combined capacity of all existing power stations in the State, and would supply cheap power to farms throughout Maine and to industries which might be encouraged to enter the region. It was hoped by advocates of the project that the newly created opportunities for manufacturing would bring about the development of the State's mineral deposits.

You probably don't think of Maine as a hub of mining and refining powered by tidal power.  The Passamaquoddy Power Project was never completed.   Lubec and Quoddy were hives of activity for several brief years in the mid-1930s, as hundreds of men and women descended on the area to construct a number of dams for the project.  Dams were built between several key points and islands, including tidal dikes built between Treat Island and Dudley Island and from the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation to Carlow Island, and then connecting to Moose Island, which makes up the bulk of Eastport.

After all this excitement and activity, the project was ultimately canceled.  Congressional support was pulled.  In the ensuing 70 years, the government has renewed its interest in the tidal power of Passamaquoddy Bay several times, although the lack of consistent support and direction may be responsible for the lack of any completed projects.  I'll look at why this may be in the coming days.

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