A company incorporated in Wyoming and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has proposed to use the tides in the Penobscot, Kennebec and Piscataqua rivers to generate electricity.

Maine Tidal Energy Company (METidal) has proposed to construct clusters of “Tidal In Stream Energy Conversion” devices, consisting of 20- to 50-foot rotating propeller blades anchored to the river bottom and connected by underwater transmission cables to electrical infrastructure on shore. The devices would generate up to two megawatts of electricity each by using tidal flows in the Penobscot River around Verona Island, the Piscataqua River in Kittery and Eliot, and Chops Point in the Kennebec.

The surge in tidal power proposals comes in the wake of feasibility studies in Maine by the Electric Power Research Institute and changes in federal energy policy. According to the governor’s office, “because of incentives available through the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, and state renewable portfolio standards, filing on attractive tidal sites holds new promise for private developers.” As a result, established and fledgling companies alike are scrambling to secure rights to potentially lucrative tidal power sites.

METidal is a subsidiary of Oceana Energy Company, which is the parent of the similarly named NHTidal, NYTidal, and MATidal. Chairman William Nitze, who also chairs the Climate Institute, Gridpoint and the Galapagos Conservancy, served in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the late 1980s and worked for Mobil Oil Corp. for 14 years. Daniel Power, president and chief technical officer, leads Oceana’s planning and engineering effort and is a contractor with the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Hydromechanics Directorate. Other company employees include the president and CEO of the Climate Institute, and the chair of the Utah Republican Party. The lead technology consultant is Ned Hansen of Ride Centerline, LLC, a roller coaster and amusement ride design consultancy firm. TRC Environmental Corporation of Lowell, MA, will be in charge of environmental permitting and planning for the projects.

The preliminary permits requested by METidal are good for three years, but they do not authorize construction or other “in the water” work. Preliminary permits allow for economic analysis, preparation of preliminary engineering plans, and an environmental impact study. And, perhaps most important, if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants preliminary permits to METidal, the company will have priority if they decide to apply for a full-blown license to develop the sites.

This “first dibs” prescription worries competitors. Verdant Power, LLC, a developer and of kinetic hydropower projects based in Virginia, wants intervener status in the permitting of Oceana. Verdant, which has a preliminary permit from FERC to investigate tidal power potential around Roosevelt Island, NY, questioned Oceana’s qualifications, claiming that Oceana lacks experience and knowledge of tidal energy technology and that by submitting preliminary permit applications, the company is merely trying to exclude other developers from potentially good power sites.

Oceana asserts it has patents pending on the technology and also has technical support from the U.S. military.

Oceana also submitted permit applications for New York, Massachusetts, Alaska and Washington. Oceana states that it applied for multiple sites simultaneously in order to investigate potential locations and develop appropriate technology, as well as to determine how the projects might be received by local regulatory agencies and communities. “In the first year of work under the preliminary permits, we will have the stakeholder interactions necessary to prioritize or eliminate sites from further development on the basis of the outlook for timely approvals going forward,” the company stated.

To date, the reception in Maine has been “wait and see.” State and federal agencies and several individuals commented on the proposals in July. Most expressed concern about fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, historic landmarks and the Penobscot project’s effects on the Penobscot River Restoration Project.

The comment period has ended and FERC is reviewing the application, but there is no indication when a decision might be made. “We had a quite a few interventions and comments that we have to consider,” said FERC Project Manager Chris Yeakel. In addition, this type of permit is relatively new for the agency, which is more accustomed to dealing with dams, and therefore may take longer to review, said Yeakel.

Meanwhile, a Florida company recently announced plans to develop tidal power in Downeast Maine. Ocean Renewable Power Co. proposes to use a turbine generator in Western Passage of Cobscook Bay to generate up to 150 megawatts of electricity. The company has not yet filed a permit application with FERC.