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March 26, 2010

Green light for Maine Maritime tidal energy venture

The Tidal Energy Demonstration and Evaluation Center (TEDEC) based at Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), Castine, Maine, has effectively been established as the only in-stream tidal energy device testing facility in the United States.

It has received a special order of clarification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), that will enable it to further the research and testing of field-scale models of tidal energy devices at two sites located near the academy.

The declaration was granted on the basis that TEDEC is hosted by Maine Maritime Academy with the intent of providing applied educational opportunities for its students while serving the furtherance of alternative energy development. Any electrical power realized through the testing process must not displace or replace power commercially available through the electricity infrastructure grid. The Center must remain non-commercial in nature with the purpose of providing scientifically-based, objective assessments and results.

Rick Armstrong, executive director of TEDEC, says the declaration clears the path for the start of immediate testing activity which has been delayed by a permitting process originally developed for application to hydropotential energy sources, rather than those of hydrokinetic energy.

The FERC regulatory process primarily focuses on managing the environmental implications of necessary infrastructure and processes related to the generation of hydroelectricity, through the use of dams and other gravitational flowing water systems.

"Tidal energy works with the environment and the natural flow of tidal waters, so many of the well-intentioned restrictions and precautions of the Federal Power Act are not necessarily applicable to this situation, especially in light of the fact that TEDEC at Maine Maritime Academy will focus on non-permanent, field test models that are relatively small and easy to remove," said Armstrong.

According to Armstrong, FERC's declaration considered impediments to the growth and success of the emerging tidal energy industry. He stated that there is a growing need for objective, scientific field tests and assessments of prototypes with little or no domestic proving grounds. Also, there is an industry need for trained personnel for the development of installations, maintenance, deployment, and monitoring of tidal energy devices. Armstrong said, "TEDEC, through its solid academic base at MMA, was able to assure FERC of its ability to provide support to advancements in the technology, while offering an educational platform for the expansion of related career paths for its students. Through TEDEC, MMA has seized the opportunity to involve its students from across the core disciplines of the college in a number of applied learning environments, from engineering performance review and operation, to baseline environmental studies, to aspects of entrepreneurship and business. This movement forward is a tremendous gain for the industry and our students."

Through TEDEC, the college will provide a tidal energy demonstration and evaluation center to economically and efficiently test and evaluate a variety of tidal energy devices currently under development around the world. The Center, the second of only two in the world and the first one in the United States, will also seek to create a model for tidal energy device testing in which educational and industry interests work cooperatively to advance technology while improving understanding of local natural resources and incorporating those features in design development. To minimize environmental disturbances and improve the overall viability of proposed renewable energy devices, the proposed center will enable academic research to influence not only testing procedures, but industry-wide engineering standards for tidal energy devices.

In addition, TEDEC is committed to assisting the regulatory community in developing protocols and permitting regimes that are appropriate to the emerging tidal energy industry and are specifically directed at environmentally friendly in-stream hydrokinetic technology and energy production.

As a non-profit, mission-based resource for alternative energy exploration, the proposed center will provide device developers with access to environmental research and interpretation, academic expertise regarding environmental influencers and impact reduction, and professional engineering suggestions and solutions.


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