US first tidal project to come online

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The nation's first commercial, grid-connected tidal energy project is scheduled to go live this month, as Ocean Renewable Power Company plans to start delivering power to the grid from its Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project.

A scene from the Maine coast: Crow Island off Great Cranberry Island, about 100 miles west of the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project.

Earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an pilot project license to Ocean Renewable Power Company Maine, LLC for its Cobscook project near Eastport, Maine.  The initial phase of ORPC's project involves a hydrokinetic turbine connected to a generator capable of producing up to 180 kilowatts of energy; after monitoring this turbine for a year, ORPC plans to expand the project to a capacity of 3 megawatts.

ORPC also won a 20-year power purchase agreement to sell the projects' output to Maine's three large electric utilities at a price escalating from 21.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.  That PPA was the result of a Maine law creating a competitive process for marine renewable energy developers to secure offtake agreements.

In a filing with the FERC earlier this week, ORPC announced that it anticipates delivering power from the Cobscook project to the mainland Bangor Hydro Electric Co. grid starting today.  According to the filing, this initial power delivery is part of the project's commissioning phase, with commencement of commercial operation expected by September 20.

Hydrokinetic projects -- generating electricity from tides, waves, and free-flowing rivers -- is a new sector of the U.S. energy portfolio.  Studies suggest that hydrokinetic resources have great potential, with tidal energy's electric production potential estimated to be 2.38 terawatt-hours per year, equal to an average power of 270 MW.  Wave energy appears to provide the larger resource, with an estimated electricity production potential of about approximately 260 TWh/yr (equal to an average power of 30,000 MW), with river in-stream electricity production potential estimated at approximately 110 TWh/yr.

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