Tidal energy project given preliminary permit
BATH — The possibility of making electricity from the tides of the Kennebec River took a small step toward reality as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted an out-of-state firm a preliminary permit good for 36 months.

During that time, the Maine Tidal Energy Company (METidal) will be allowed to study the feasibility of the Kennebec Tidal Energy Hydroelectric Project, proposed for a site under the river between Chops Point in Woolwich and West Chops Point in Bath.

According to the FERC report announcing the issuance of the permit, the proposed project would consist of 50 Tidal In Stream Energy Conversion (TISEC) devices, rotating propeller blades, integrated generators of 0.5 to 2.0 megawatts power totaling 100 megawatts, anchoring system, mooring lines, submerged cable and interconnection transmission lines.

The project's developers estimate an annual generation of 438 gigawatt hours per unit per year, which would be sold to a utility.

The Maine Tidal Energy Co. also has applied for a permit to harness the tides of the Penobscot River. The firm is part of a larger group of companies under the corporate umbrella of the Oceana Energy Co. Their mission, according to the companies' Web site, is "to develop, permit, install and operate sustainable tidal power generation facilities that benefit the public and the environment." The company is based in Washington, D.C.

The FERC order states that a preliminary permit's purpose is to "preserve the right of the permit holder to have the first priority in applying for a license for the project that is being studied."

The permit "grants no land-disturbing or other property rights." Instead, it only allows the permit holder "to investigate the feasibility of a project while the permitee conducts investigations and secures necessary data" to determine feasibility and to prepare a license application.

Feasibility, according to FERC, includes studying the impact of the project on fish and wildlife, recreational resources and historic landmarks.

When METidal originally applied for the permit in May 2006, it created a rush of groups filing motions to intervene in the case. The state of Maine was one such group, issuing a comment that while it supported development of renewable power, the Kennebec River was classified as an "A" river, meaning that it had recreational value and significant resources.

Other groups weighing in with statements were the town of Woolwich, the city of Bath, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and a competing company called Verdant Power LLC.

Friends of Merrymeeting Bay expressed opposition to the project because it supports an "unspecified" new technology for which limited impact data exists and the proposed site contains significant resources.

Ed Friedman, spokesman for FOMB, said FERC should have "just said no."

"There couldn't be a more mismatched pair," he said. "We've spent millions of dollars protecting fish, eagles, preserving this one-of-a-kind resource and now we're going to litter its floor with 50-foot propeller blades. It's evil."

But Bath City Manager William Giroux said this morning that just because a preliminary permit has been issued there's no cause for alarm.

"We filed for intervenor status not because we're necessarily against the project, but because we want to be kept informed," he said.

Telephone calls to the METidal office in Lowell, Mass., were not returned at press time.