Wave project under construction in Maine

The first grid-connected tidal wave energy project in Maine is under construction and should be generating kilowatts by mid-summer.

A single, maximum 180-kW device developed by Ocean Renewable Power Co. in Cobscook Bay in Down East Maine is being assembled and readied for installation.

“We’re now at a point where our TidGen Power System is now ready for its first commercial installation,” Chris Sauer, ORPC’s President and CEO, told GenerationHub.

The project received a license to operate for eight years and to connect to the grid from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late February and assembly began immediately. The project has received a $10m grant from the Department of Energy.

“Our plan is by mid-June we will have entire device underwater and powered,” Sauer said.

ORPC will be conducting environmental monitoring of the system at the 60-acre site for several weeks as well as studying the electronic systems before its generation is ready for interconnection with the grid. The device that resembles a paddlewheel will be anchored to the sea bottom, 100 feet below the surface.

The local utility, the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. is scheduled to connect the project to the grid in July and have synchronization completed in August.

The only visible part of the system will be the end of a 3,700-foot-long cable that is connected to an onshore substation.

Plans are for a second phase of the project to add four more devices of the same size in 2013. Generation capacity will probably average 300 kW.

“The marine environment underwater is very interesting,” Sauer said. “It’s tough being under high pressure and in salt water.”

But there aren’t sudden swings in current speed, and while storms can create horrific conditions on the surface, there is minimal impact in the depths.

ORPC has been around the technology for a time, as the company was founded in 2004.

A prototype of the TidGen was tested in 2008 to test the proof of concept. A 60-kW device was then tested for a year, starting in 2010. It was the largest of its kind in the U.S., Sauer said, and it exceeded expectations enough to provide the go-ahead for the current project.

Since the units, so far are “one-off” and production economies have not yet been realized. And extensive monitoring that the company is undergoing now won’t be necessary in a few years, Sauer added.

With that said, he expects installed costs for the system to approach $8,000 per kW in 2016 or 2017, and longer-term, prices could drop to about $4,000 per kW by 2020.

The Maine project is only the beginning, Sauer hopes. The area around the site, along with the larger coastal region known as the Passamaquoddy Bay, has a 50-MW potential for ocean energy. The company has designs on an even larger project in the Bay of Fundy, off Nova Scotia, in a couple years, where the wave resource is even stronger.