Cobscook tidal project environmental review

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A tidal energy project proposed in Maine has passed an initial federal environmental review.  Federal regulators have released an environmental assessment of the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project (182-page PDF), finding generally that licensing the hydrokinetic project with appropriate environmental protective measures would not constitute a major federal action that would significantly affect the quality of the human environment.

The Cobscook Bay project is proposed by Ocean Renewable Power Company Maine, LLC.  ORPC proposes to develop a 300 kilowatt hydrokinetic project in Cobscook Bay near the city of Eastport and the town of Lubec, Maine.  The project entails five cross-flow hydrokinetic turbine generator units, each with a rated capacity of 60 kW.  According to FERC, the project's construction will cost an estimated $11.5 million, with operation and maintenance adding $146,000 per year.  Staff's analysis suggests that during its first year of operation, the project would produce power at a cost that is $1.3 million more than the cost of alternative power (or about 1 cent per kWh above alternative power).

ORPC Maine has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an 8-year pilot license for the Cobscook project.  Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies must evaluate the environmental impacts of agency actions such as issuing licenses for energy projects.  Performing an environmental assessment is one step in the NEPA process.  If the agency concludes that issuing the license would have relatively minor environmental impacts, as the FERC did for the Cobscook project, it can avoid the more stringent review process of preparing an environmental impact statement.

In the Cobscook project's environmental assessment, FERC staff recommended licensing the project with several additional modifications.  FERC invites public comment for 30 days following publication of notice of the environmental assessment.

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