Tidal energy hits milestone in U.S.

The force of 8,000 locomotives will soon be captured and converted to energy to power homes in Maine.

Ocean Renewable Power Company will install the first U.S. commercial grid-connected tidal energy project at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy between eastern Maine and Canada, where 100 billion tons of water flow in and out each day with the force of 8,000 locomotives and tidal ranges of up to 50 feet or more.

ORPC has worked since 2006 to secure the necessary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The three-part project, which was supported by a $10 million investment from the U.S. Energy Department, will eventually include power systems in Cobscook Bay, at Kendall Head and in Western Passage. Three of Maine's electricity distributors will purchase electricity generated ORPC under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

The project is noteworthy more for the milestone it achieved than its actual size. The first phase of the project, which will begin this summer, will only generate enough electricity to power 75 to 100 homes.

ORPC will run and monitor the project for a year. The company will then expand to nearby areas and install additional power systems over a three-year period, eventually increasing the project's capacity to four megawatts -- enough power to generate electricity for more than 1,000 homes and businesses.

Tidal energy is considered ideal in many ways because it captures the power of water and converts it into energy without building dams. Still, tidal energy hasn't avoided controversy all together. Environmentalists worry the massive underwater turbines will disturb marine life.

The DOE has high hopes for tidal energy. Earlier this year, the agency released two assessments that found wave and tidal currents could produce up to 1,420 terawatt hours of electricity per year. The U.S. uses about 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity a year.

Photo: Ocean Renewable Power Company

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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