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Coast Guard to harness power of tides

Turbines in waters off Maine could serve as model

By Clarke Canfield
Associated Press / April 23, 2009
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SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine - The US Coast Guard hopes to have a tidal power generator in the water by the end of the summer to provide electricity to its station in Eastport.

The agency wants to tap into the power of Eastport's 20-foot tides and 6-knot currents to provide a secondary power source for its facilities in the far eastern Maine city, said Captain Jim McPherson, commander of the Coast Guard's northern New England sector.

When the generator is installed, it would be the Coast Guard's first move into tidal power, possibly making the station the first federal government building anywhere to utilize tidal power, he said. It could serve as a model for projects at Coast Guard stations in Alaska and Washington State, he said.

Tidal turbines are powered by current flows, much the way wind turbines are spun by moving air.

Eastport is a suitable location because of the monster tides of Passamaquoddy Bay, a large inlet of the Bay of Fundy that straddles the Maine-New Brunswick border with the greatest tidal swings in the continental United States. A Portland-based company, Ocean Renewable Power Co., has been testing high-tech turbines off Eastport with the goal of harnessing the power of the tides to produce electricity for thousands of homes.

The Coast Guard, which is seeking proposals for its $100,000 project, announced its plan on Earth Day to emphasize its commitment to sustainable energy sources. It did not immediately say how much money it expected to save by using the tidal generator.

In Maine, the Coast Guard has wind turbines at stations in Southwest Harbor and South Portland.

Ninety percent of its lighted navigational buoys off Maine and New Hampshire are powered with solar panels. Sixty of its 68 lighthouses in the region are solar powered.

In Eastport, a tidal generator at first would provide power for lighting and large heaters on the Coast Guard pier, McPherson said. Down the road, ocean turbines could provide power to the service's buildings in Eastport.

"Tidal power is very predictable; it comes in twice a day," McPherson said. "We can time it to the minute."