One of two tidal power proposals under consideration in northeastern Maine received rave reviews from local boosters while federal officials remain skeptical about the other.
The cut-off date for public comment was March 31 on the Western Passage Tidal Energy Project in Eastport and the Half Moon Cove Tidal Power Project in Cobscook and Passamaquoddy bays near Eastport and Perry.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) now must decide whether to issue preliminary permits for the projects. The agency noted that it does not give estimates on when it might rule on an application.
Celeste Miller, a FERC spokesman, said the permit gives the applicant priority over the site for three years while it determines the feasibility of their projects.
Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) in Portland is proposing the project in Western Passage and Maine Tidal Power of Trescott submitted a plan for Half Moon Cove.
Briefly, the Western Passage Project would consist of turbine generators tethered, not anchored, to the bottom. In some areas the turbines, which revolve with the ebb and flow of the tides, will be stacked in a vertical configuration.
The Half Moon Cove project includes a 1,200-foot-long, rock filled barrage, or dam, a 20-foot high filling and emptying gate and a new powerhouse with four turbine generating units.
The ORPC proposal generated letters of support to FERC from the Sunrise County Economic Council, the Eastport Port Authority and the Eastport City Council and manager and some trepidation by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“ORPC is a global leader in the marine hydrokinetic industry, and this project is vital to job creation in the region,” wrote Jennifer Peters, interim executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council.
The Maine Tidal Power proposal drew negative comments from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as concern by the DEP.
DEP noted that despite a new design, the agency remained concerned about the project’s effect on water quality, movement of aquatic organisms and marine mammals and commercial and recreational navigation in and out of Half Moon Cove.
Andrew Raddant, regional environmental officer for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said his agency wants assurances that issues raised by Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy tribal historic preservation officer, were addressed.
Soctomah in 2009 wrote to FERC that he was concerned there had been no archeological study; that the project would impact the harvesting of clams, wrinkles and seaweed; disturb nursery conditions for fish and shellfish; change native plant fauna; and cause erosion build up.
Christopher Boelke, field office supervisor for NOAA, said in his letter to FERC that dams fragment watersheds and alter species habitats and community structure.
“The proposed project has the potential to significantly and irreversibly impact our trust resources in Half Moon Cove and Cobscook and Passamaquoddy Bay,” he said.
Maine Tidal Power, which is collaborating with Tidewalker Associates on its project, argued that it should be granted a third permit due to “extraordinary circumstances.”
Those circumstances, the company said in its filing, include the fact that the history of success of tidal dams in the U.S. is non-existent, although there are successful tidal dams in France, Canada and South Korea.
Regulatory standards in place are geared for hydro-electric facilities, not tidal dams, the company said. These factors hamper a developer’s ability to raise capital during the exploratory stage, the company said.
Normand Laberge of Tidewater, in response to an email inquiry, wrote that he acknowledged “the importance of regulatory oversight” and “agreed with regulators on the need for environmental studies.”
ORPC carried out the first, commercial pilot project in North America—in Cobscook Bay—that converts the power of the tides into electricity and connects to the energy grid.
Nathan Johnson, director of environmental affairs for ORPC, said Western Passage is a more challenging site than Cobscook Bay.
“The tidal flows are more rigorous and the seabed is very irregular,” Johnson said.
The seabed depths in the Western Passage vary from 100- to 400-feet. The Cobscook Bay seabed varies from 85-feet to 105-feet, he said.
Also, the Western Passage is a busy commercial shipping lane and an active fishery populated by a variety of whales, dolphins and seals.