Tidal Electricity Will Be Flowing In Maine

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of AOL Energy. Author credit goes to Phil Zahodiakin.

Electricity generated with the force of ocean tides will be sold under long-term contracts for the first time in the United States later this year.

The electricity will flow from the Maine Tidal Energy Project in the waters off Eastport and Lubec, Maine. The first phase of the project involves the installation of five, proprietary turbines in Cobscook Bay, where the tides rise and fall 16-to-25 feet at an average velocity of 5.6 knots.

TidGen turbine

image via Ocean Renewable Power

The Ocean Renewable Power Company will install the first of its crossflow turbines this summer, with four more to follow by the end of 2013. Each of the “TidGen” turbines has a nameplate capacity of 180 kilowatts, which means the project could produce up to 900 kilowatts.

ORPC expects to finish building out the entire, $45 million project by installing 17 additional turbines on the other side of the Eastport peninsula by the end of 2016. At that point, the project will reach a nameplate capacity of 3.6 megawatts.

The single turbine installed this summer will produce electricity for commercial sale by Oct. 1. The terms of ORPC’s pending, power purchase agreements with three distribution companies were issued on April 24 by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Although distribution companies typically negotiate PPAs with their power providers, the PUC was directed by the state’s Ocean Energy Act of 2010 to set the terms for this deal. Under the PUC “term sheet” (Docket # 2010-235), the price of power from the Tidal Energy Project will be 21.5 cents per kilowatt hour and increase by 2 percent per year – which will raise the price to 32 cents per kilowatt hour in the final year of the 20-year PPAs.

Reconciling Higher Priced Power

The power will be purchased by Bangor Hydro Electric Co., the Maine Public Service Co., and the Central Maine Power Co.

Susan Faloon, communications officer for Bangor Hydro, told AOL Energy that, “While we have concerns about any public policy that increases costs for our customers, the legislature has set public policy for the state and the commission is moving ahead with implementing that policy by directing us to enter into a PPA.”

A 21.5-cent rate is about twice the price for terrestrial wind power, and it’s slightly north of the initial pricing set for the offshore wind-farms proposed for Cape Cod and Rhode Island waters.

But ORPC president and CEO Chris Sauer told AOL Energy that tidal energy prices are sure to decline as the fledgling technology matures. “We’re looking out to 2020 with an expectation of substantial efficiency gains. You’ve seen it happen with solar and certainly with wind-energy, and we’re projecting that, by 2020, the break-even cost to generate tidal electricity will be 8-to-10 cents per kilowatt hour.”

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