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Maine offshore energy project exceeds expectations

Ocean Renewable Power Company's underwater tide turbine has surpassed power supply predictions, and the company expects a commercial grid connection as soon as 2011.

View of Cobscook Bay in Eastport, Maine, where ORPC has submerged its turbines.
Ocean Renewable Power Company

Maine is now home to the "largest ocean energy device ever installed in U.S. waters," the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) announced Wednesday.

That device is the company's Beta Power System, which was installed in Cobscook Bay off of Eastport, Maine, and includes a submerged Turbine Generator Unit with a capacity of 60 kilowatts.

The TGU works in similar principle to a wind turbine, but with a horizontal turbine propelled by tidal currents instead of wind. The turbine is built from composite materials resistant to corrosion and, being gearless, requires no lubricants that could make their way into the ocean environment.

ORPC announced Wednesday that the installation and testing of its pilot system have been a success in terms of power generated.

"Performance test results show that the TGU's electrical output meets or exceeds expectations for the full range of current velocities encountered," ORPC said in a statement.

Because of the success of this initial installation, the company predicts it can install its TidGen Power System, the commercial version of its Beta Power System, and be hooked in to the Bangor Hydro Electric Company grid as soon as 2011.

The TidGen turbines installed will make up a 150-kilowatt system and generate enough electricity to power between 50 and 75 Maine homes annually, ORPC CEO Chris Sauer told the Associated Press.

ORPC has licenses for three separate sites off the coast of Eastport, Maine, where it may install turbines. The area is an ideal spot for harnessing tidal energy since it has extremely strong tidal currents.

The company is in the process of obtaining licenses for tidal energy sites off the coast of Alaska, another area known for its rough tidal currents. It also has its sights set on Florida and makes some strong claims as to why it wants to install a system there.

"Experts estimate that the Gulf Stream currents are capable of generating between 4 and 10 gigawatts of power--the same amount of energy produced by 4 to 10 new nuclear power plants. If ocean energy technology harnessed just 1/1,000 of the Gulf Stream's available energy, we could power up to 7 million homes and businesses in the state of Florida with renewable, reliable, emission-free electricity," ORPC says on its company Web site.

ORPC has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Maine Technology Institute, and will soon be partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard.

A project is under way to use ORPC's turbines to generate power for the Coast Guard's Eastport station, though in a different manner. Instead of transferring the electricity to a grid on land, the turbine will supply power to a battery system aboard its Energy Tide 2 boat, and then transfer the batteries to the Coast Guard station.

The Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) should not be confused with Ocean Power Technologies, another company harnessing ocean waves for power. Ocean Power Technologies makes the PowerBuoy, which has garnered attention for its projects currently going on in Oregon and Hawaii, and for its collaboration with the U.S. Navy. That company makes something resembling an ordinary ocean buoy on the surface, but holds within it a piston-like device that extends far below the buoy and moves with the buoy's jostle from ocean waves. The buoy contains sensors and communication tools that allow the company to remotely adjust it to attune to the ocean's changing behavior. The electricity generated from the buoy's turbine is transmitted to shore via underwater cable.

Ocean Renewable Power Company