25 Aug 2006
by Gail Menzel
Washington County continues to be flooded with proposals for projects related to the energy industry. Three potential terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) have been advanced for sites at Split Rock, Robbinston and Calais; a dam has been proposed to produce electricity by harnessing the tides at Half Moon Cove near Quoddy Village; another tidal dam, possibly incorporating an LNG terminal, is proposed for Cutler; hopes are high among proponents of a "wind farm" on Passamaquoddy Tribe land in Township 19 if nearly complete studies over the past year support the idea. Now three new applications have been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for permission to conduct feasibility studies of tidal power projects in Western Passage and Cobscook Bay.
Each of the new projects, one submitted by the Passamaquoddy Tribe and two by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) of Miami, Fla., would consist of fully-submerged turbines connected to generators, with the electricity produced to be sold to a local utility. In a public notice announcing the latest three projects, the Maine State Planning Office refers to them as "three competing applications," noting that none involves the use of a dam. The state cautions that the proposed generating systems are not yet commercially available, so that their "technical or economic feasibility" has not been "demonstrated in the field."
According to Steve Crawford, environmental director for the tribe, three possible sites have been identified for study: Kendall's Head, Dog Island and Shackford Head. He believes Shackford Head is the most promising of the three, as it is in an area of strong currents where the facility could be located near the shore. The system would consist of 55 turbine-generator units, a screen to protect and deter marine life, two mooring lines to an anchor on the floor, and a transmission line to the shore. Average annual electrical output is estimated at 29.25 gigawatt hours. If the preliminary application is approved, the tribe would contract with Underwater Electric Kite, based in Annapolis, Md., to conduct the study, with $130,000 in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
ORPC is proposing two tidal power projects, one for Western Passage of Passamaquoddy Bay and one for Cobscook Bay that would extend from Shackford Head to Birch Point. The former would consist of 80-120 modules, each housing two turbines and a generator, a "support structure" and a transmission line to shore. Estimated annual production is 28.8 to 43.2 gigawatt hours. The latter system would encompass 100-150 modules, a transmission line and support structure, and generate 36-50 gigawatt hours annually.
Christopher R. Sauer, president and CEO for the privately held company, says that ORPC's research shows the Western Passage site to be "the best location on the east coast" for the type of power generating system they propose. "We're looking for currents of six knots," he explained in a phone conversation from his office in Denmark, Maine. He notes that the geometry of the modules his company proposes, greater in width than height, would allow for as much as 40 feet of water above them. "There would be no impact on fishing or shipping," he stated. Company representatives have visited Eastport and spoken to town officials on a "very preliminary basis," he added.
Asked why his company submitted applications for two similar projects that appear to be "competing," as they were characterized by the Maine State Planning Office notice, Sauer explained that proposals submitted to FERC tend to be addressed in the order of their receipt, and his applications are "holding a place in the line" for ORPC.
If FERC issues preliminary permits for all or any of the tidal projects, the applicant has three years to complete an economic analysis, initial engineering plans and environmental impact studies. No construction is permitted during the preliminary phase, and further procedures are required prior to approvals for construction and operation of a facility.
According to Crawford, a final report of a wind study on the blueberry barrens in Township 19 is expected soon from Disgen, a Colorado company that specializes in wind-based generation systems and currently has similar projects in various stages of development with 24 other Indian tribes. Crawford says he is optimistic the data will support a wind farm on part of the 5,000 acres of trust lands held for the tribe. If so, the matter would be considered at a tribal council held jointly by Sipayik and Indian Township representatives. Such a project would not interfere with berry harvesting on the land, he adds. If the joint tribal council approves, the next step would be to seek financing for the project.
Normand Laberge, a principal of Tidewater Associates, has filed applications for two tidal power projects, one at the former Navy base in Cutler and one at Half Moon Cove, both involving dams. The Cutler project also envisions possible construction of an LNG terminal and conversion of the Navy's diesel plant to LNG to permit continuous operations at the facility. The Navy Department has submitted a "protest" to the Cutler proposal "on grounds of inconsistency with military mission and policy."
The letter to FERC from Andrew Stackpole for the Navy cites the project's proximity to "restricted access areas," and policy that excludes "tide lands and submerged lands" from certain uses. In his response to FERC, Laberge questions the relevance of the policy cited by the Navy, and asserts the Navy is in "violation of air emission standards" at their diesel-fueled generation facility, a problem that could be solved if it were converted to tidal power.
Laberge had some criticism for the webmaster of the site <http://www.SavePassamaquoddyBay.org/> who made an editorial comment based on the Navy's letter to FERC. Referring to the Cutler proposal, the website notes, "It appears that this project is, essentially, dead." Laberge disputes the comment, saying, "I do not understand how the webmaster is able to make such definitive conclusions without researching the subject matter or at least requesting some rebuttal. This type of arrogance and intransigence has not been an effective method of protest."
A "motion to intervene" submitted to FERC by Betsy Elder, hydropower coordinator for Maine's State Planning Office, lists a number of comments on the proposed Cutler project from state agencies, including the Departments of Environmental Protection, Marine Resources and Conservation, the Atlantic Salmon Commission and governor's office. She notes the motion "does not represent opposition to the project," but is a means of preserving the state's "legal standing." In his response, Laberge pledges to investigate the issues she raises during the course of a feasibility study.
A second dam project has been initiated by Laberge, on behalf of Tidewater Associates, who has requested FERC approval to conduct feasibility studies for Half-Moon Cove Tidal Power Project, to be located off Quoddy Village. The dam would extend 1,210 feet across the inlet, with a maximum height of 67 feet. A powerhouse with three turbines, a transmission line and "appurtenant facilities" is planned. Capacity is estimated at 13.5 megawatts.
Crawford was asked if there might be competition for approval among the tidal projects proposed for Western Passage/Cobscook Bay sites and the tidal dam project at Half Moon Cove. He replied, "Normand is a friend of mine, but the idea of damming up a cove is absolutely offensive to me § the ecological effect would be significant." With regard to the Cutler proposal, he said there are ancient Passamaquoddy burial grounds adjacent to the property, which the tribe fears could be disturbed by construction. They will seek intervenor status with FERC in opposition, he added.
In response to Crawford's comments, Laberge stated that concerns about the ecosystem have to be balanced against our "continuing dependence on fossil fuel." He acknowledged there would be an increase in the low tide level of three to six feet, resulting in "the transition in several hundred acres of intertidal zone into submerged lands." However, he believes the ecosystem would "quickly adapt to the new tidal regime," and in any event a cost-benefit analysis as part of a feasibility study would address the issue. As for the Cutler project, Laberge says he "assisted the Passamaquoddy Tribe in obtaining rights to Sprague Neck on Cutler Navy land." He says his proposal for Cutler "would not have an impact" on Passamaquoddy burial grounds.
No information could be found on the status of Calais LNG, a proposal announced last year by principals Fred Moore and Ian Emery. Neither man could be reached by phone, and there is no indication on the FERC website that a preliminary permit application has been submitted for a proposed terminal at Red Beach. Applications have been received from Quoddy Bay LNG and Downeast LNG, and FERC is receiving comment on both from public agencies, interested groups and individuals.
© 2006 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.