Maine hydrokinetic energy project seeks pilot license

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hydrokinetic power plants can produce usable power from the energy contained in moving water into electricity.  Tidal currents, ocean waves, or water flowing through rivers can all be used to produce hydrokinetic energy.  (To learn more, check out my summary of what's happening with hydrokinetics across the country.)

Hydrokinetic energy development is generally regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  To be able to install and operate a hydrokinetic project at a given site, the developer typically goes through a multi-step regulatory process.  This usually includes securing a preliminary permit granting the exclusive right to study the site for several years, followed by the FERC license application process.

Maine is home to a number of issued preliminary permits for proposed hydrokinetic energy projects.  This month, one of those projects -- the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project -- took a step forward, as its application for a pilot license was accepted by the Commission.

The Cobscook Bay project is proposed by ORPC Maine, LLC, a subsidiary of Ocean Renewable Power Company.  ORPC proposes to deploy its proprietary scalable tidal energy power system in Cobscook Bay near the city of Eastport and the town of Lubec, Maine.  Cobscook Bay's tidal energy resource has drawn interest for nearly 100 years, with proposals like the Passamaquoddy Power Project coming and going in that time.  Hydrokinetic technologies are enabling renewed interest in the bay's tidal energy resources.

ORPC's pilot license application envisions two phases of project development.  First, ORPC will test a single TidGen unit for one year.  Next, ORPC would add four more TidGen units to create a linked project.  Each TidGen unit has a maximum design capacity of 180 kilowatts, but is anticipated to produce only 60 kW during typical operations.  Electricity produced by the project would be brought ashore via a 3,600-foot underwater cable, where it would be conditioned and interconnected with the grid owned by Bangor Hydro Electric Company.

FERC gave notice that it accepted ORPC's application for processing on October 6, 2011.  Because ORPC is using the Commission's new pilot license process, the regulatory steps are more streamlined than for traditional hydropower licenses, and many of the deadlines are accelerated.  Comments, recommendations, motions to intervene or protests are due within 30 days from that notice of acceptance.

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