Elements of Success in Tidal Energy Development

The successful deployment of the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project demonstrates key elements of tidal energy development that can benefit future projects.

By John M. Ferland

Ocean Renewable Power Co. (ORPC) made history in 2012 with the start-up of the first federally licensed, grid-connected tidal energy project in the United States. Situated on the U.S. side of the Bay of Fundy in Maine, the Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project also has the first long-term power purchase agreement for tidal energy issued in the U.S., allowing ORPC to expand the site to up to 5 MW of capacity.

The path to commercialization involves a multi-step technology roadmap. After a year in the water with our Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project, we’ve retrieved the TidGen turbine generator unit (TGU) and, per the requirements of our Federeal Energy Regulatory Commission license and federal funding for the project, are completing a comprehensive inspection and engineering analysis that will help us prepare for volume production. This strategy helps ensure the long-term success of our Maine Tidal Energy Project, comprised of the Cobscook Bay site and nearby Western Passage area.

Our technology optimization program will also turn our current design into a lower cost, more efficient and reliable power system and will prepare us for entry into worldwide markets for tidal and river energy production. Significantly, the U.S. Department of Energy continues to support our commercialization and technology roadmap, recently awarding ORPC $5 million to help propel us to this next stage.

As part of our optimization program, this summer we will be installing and testing in Cobscook Bay a prototype of our OCGen TGU and anchoring system. Also this year we will install our first complete RivGen Power System in Alaska’s Kvichak River in partnership with the Village of Igiugig and Alaska Energy Authority. Additionally, we have created ORPC Solutions, a subsidiary providing strategic project development, and regulatory, environmental management and related services to ocean energy developers. We were recently hired by Resolute Marine Energy, a wave energy technology company, to lead its regulatory and community relations efforts in Yakutat, Alaska.

Early advances

ORPC has had to address complexities related to technology development, resource assessment, project siting, marine construction, regulatory requirements, environmental monitoring and public policy. Key to project success has been the positive relationships ORPC has developed with host communities and regulators.

Our experience in Maine is a good case study regarding local support for tidal energy development. Through early, open and frequent communications, ORPC developed relationships and built trust with the nearby communities. Their economies and ways of life have historically been defined by the success of their marine industries. The local workforce is highly skilled in marine operations and has provided ORPC with the guidance and expertise needed to work in local waters. Relationships also have been established with local port authorities, harbor pilots, and, most importantly, commercial fishermen, who helped ORPC site the Cobscook Bay project, resulting in a location that met the company’s requirements while minimizing disturbance to fishing activities.

ORPC has also benefitted from the availability of local divers, commercial vessel operators and crews, and other marine-oriented interests, for support on environmental studies and project construction, operations and maintenance.

Points of success

Local support for ORPC has helped the company create a strong economic footprint statewide. Since 2007, ORPC has spent more than $25 million throughout Maine, supported more than 100 jobs statewide, and established a supply chain reaching 13 of the state’s 16 counties.

The promise of economic growth was a major reason why Maine implemented the Ocean Energy Act in 2010. The act created regulatory reform for small-scale tidal projects and the opportunity for a long-term power purchase agreement through the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Additionally, the State of Maine and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 to align state and federal approaches to tidal energy regulation.

The company will submit the Cobscook Bay project’s second annual environmental monitoring report to FERC in April 2014. The agency requires licensees to develop adaptive management plans for evaluating environmental monitoring data and making science-based decisions to modify monitoring as necessary. The goal is to maintain levels of monitoring to project risk through a collaborative effort with regulatory agencies and key advisors. Results to date show no observed adverse interaction of the TidGen Power System with the marine environment. ORPC’s experience provides examples of the types of community, public policy and regulatory dynamics that are necessary for a tidal energy project to evolve successfully.

John Ferland is vice president of project development at Ocean Renewable Power Co. This article updates what was previously printed in Power Engineering magazine.

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