Maine tidal project preliminary permit issued

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A tidal energy developer has been granted a preliminary permit to study a proposed project in Western Passage, near the city of Eastport, Maine.

Under the Federal Power Act, most grid-connected tidal power projects require licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Section 4(f) of the Federal Power Act authorizes the Commission  to issue preliminary permits to allow prospective applicants for a hydropower license time to secure the data and perform the acts required to prepare a license application.  A preliminary permit preserves the holder's right to have first priority in applying for a license for the project being studied.

On December 4, 2015, ORPC Maine, LLC applied for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the proposed Western Passage Tidal Energy Project No. 14743.  As described in that application, the project would include fifteen of ORPC's proprietary 500-kilowatt hydrokinetic marine turbine-generator units for a combined capacity of 7.5 megawatts, along with anchoring and mooring systems, and transmission lines running ashore to an existing distribution line.  The materials describe an estimated average annual generation of 2.6 to 3.53 gigawatt-hours.

The Commission granted that preliminary permit by an order dated July 13, 2016.  In that order, the Commission addressed comments filed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and an individual.

In its comments, the tribe raised concerns over what the Commission calls "site banking".  As described by the Commission, the essence of its policy against site banking is that "an entity that is unwilling or unable to develop a site should not be permitted to maintain the exclusive right to develop it."  In some cases, the Commission invokes its policy against site banking to deny applications for successive preliminary permits.

The tribe questioned whether ORPC Maine should be granted a new preliminary permit when it has held two prior preliminary permits for the site of the proposed Western Passage Project -- the first issued in 2007, and a successive permit in 2011 -- without ever filing a development application. 

But in ORPC's case, the Commission noted that the project site has been unencumbered by a permit since ORPC's most recent permit expired in 2013, and that no other entity has filed a preliminary permit or development application for the site.  The Commission concluded that "a sufficient amount of time has passed for any other entity interested in developing the Western Passage Project site to have filed a preliminary permit or development application for the site and none has done so. Consequently, issuing a permit at this time to ORPC Maine for this site would not contribute to site banking."

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