Maine has a long history of a renewable-energy-driven economy. Tide mills were once numerous along the Maine coast running sawmills and grist mills, and fishing and transport were once powered by wind. Now there is potential to return to heritage energy sources again but in new forms. The Penobscot Marine Museum’s Nov. 2 conference “Fish, Wind and Tides: Maine’s Future Resources,” explored the potential for Maine to become a world leader in the new wind and tidal power industries, the benefits that may bring to the Maine economy and how the region is preparing for the challenges in ocean planning that such development could bring about.

Tide power

Co-founder of the Tide Mill Institute Bud Warren of Topsham gave the opening presentation on the history and technology of tide mills in Maine. The first was built in 1634 at the mouth of the Libby River in York. Since then more than 200 documented mills have been built along the Maine coast. Tide power had a major impact on the economy then. By Warren’s calculation, nearly 25,000 people — investors, employees and customers — were involved in Maine’s tide mills.

Today, tidal power generation takes the form of in-stream devices rather than dams and water wheels. Ocean Renewable Power Company's Gorlov turbine, the first U.S. grid-connected commercial tidal energy turbine in the country, depoyed in 2012 in Cobscook Bay,  generates enough power annually to power 25 to 30 homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Ocean Renewables has spent $21 million in-state and helped create or retain 100 jobs since the project began, accoding to John Ferland of Ocean Renewables.

To develop a comprehensive understanding of the economic feasibility, environmental impact and social acceptability of new tidal power technologies, Maine Tidal Power Initiative, a partnership between Maine Maritime Academy and University of Maine, has been studying the new turbine's impacts on the bay and the Eastport community. Members of the MTPI team, which includes marine scientists, social scientists, oceanographers and engineers, spoke of their roles in the project.

Gail Zydlewsky is studying the effects of the turbine on fish behavior, abundance and distribution in the water column over the whole bay and at the site of the turbine. Her team did a three-year study of the bay’s fish species to compare with data they are collecting after the device has been installed. With acoustic cameras, they are able to record interactions of fish with the turbine. They found that fish are more likely to avoid the turbine when it is spinning; schools of fish are more likely to avoid the turbine than individual fish; and at night and at slack tides when it is not rotating, fish are more likely to swim through the turbine. Her team will also study the direct interaction with fish and the blades in a lab setting.

Teresa Johnson, assistant professor of marine policy at University of Maine, is the social scientist in the group. She found that the community acceptance of Ocean Renewables Power Company’s project was high, which she attributed to the community’s belief that the direct benefit of the project creating jobs outweighs the cost of loss of access to some ocean bottom, and to the company’s high level of community outreach. ORPC has an office in Eastport and has been keeping the public informed at every step of the project, through the newspaper, public meetings and word-of-mouth. “Having a face to the company is very important,” Johnson said, “ … Sustained engagement is crucial for long-term acceptability.”

Maine Maritime Academy has a federal permit to test tidal energy devices, and is situated near a recognized high potential tidal energy site at Bagaduce Narrows which sees tidal velocities of up to 5 to 6 knots in places. Rick Armstrong, executive director of the newly formed Tidal Energy Demonstration and Evaluation Center at MMA, spoke about the potential to brand Maine as the place to go for servicing, maintenance, testing and support for tidal power devices. As Japan is decommissioning all its nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster, that country is looking at what Maine has to offer for support for renewable energy technologies, he said.

“Oceans have a lot of power, but harnessing that power will not happen unless we energize the entrepreneurial spirit to design and produce hydrokinetic devices,” Armstrong said. Local inventors need to have a place where they can get third-party testing done. The first device TEDEC tested was designed a local inventor, Blue Hill engineer Sergei Breus. TEDEC is also contributing to development of environmental protocols, permitting methods and oversight processes, and educating students for entry into the emerging hydrokinetic industry.

Armstrong foresees tidal power of the future as a fully integrated, distributed system of small, efficient devices that are consistent with the natural environment.

Wind power

During lunch provided by Angler’s Restaurant, Eben Wilson, apprentice sail maker at Nathaniel Wilson Sailmaker Inc., spoke about the early- to mid-19th century sail making techniques his company still uses to make sails, giving a historical context to the afternoon discussion on wind power.

Wind power is Maine’s largest untapped renewable resource, capable of generating 156.6 gigawatts. Larry Parent, assistant director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, Orono spoke about VolturnUS, the floating-platform wind turbine developed by the Composites Center, Maine Maritime Academy and Cianbro, which is in Phase 2 of testing. Unlike fixed-platform turbines, the lightweight floating-platform turbines can access high wind areas in deep waters, can be assembled and deployed with commonly available materials, port infrastructure and vessels, and can be towed to shore and repaired, extending one platform’s life cycle to 60 years. A 1:8 scale model was launched May 31 from the Cianbro facility in Brewer and towed down the Penobscot river. The first U.S. grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the counrty, it is now producing energy off the coast of Castine. By 2016, the Center plans to have a full-scale 12-megawatt model built and deployed, and by 2020, the Center hopes to have a full commercial wind farm producing 500 megawatts 20 miles offshore mostly invisible from land due to the curvature of the earth.

Parent described the anchoring system as similar to a mooring system, to which an audience member responded with concern that a large wind farm will close large areas to any fishing involving fixed gear.

Paul Williamson of the Maine Ocean and Wind Initiative was the final speaker of the conference. He argued that commitment to wind power development will lead to more job creation in Maine. A new wind power industry in Maine has the potential to create 15,000 jobs, he said, but how many of those jobs will be created in Maine rather than in other countries depends on how much of the supply-chain and infrastructure can be developed in-state. He said the jobs would come in two waves, first in the professional sector, employing environmental scientists and engineers, and in manufacturing and boatbuilding. Wind power is being embraced all over the world, and Maine can develop technology to export all over the world. Right now wind and ocean energy are economic drivers for Maine. According to a 2012 Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative survey of companies participating in wind and ocean energy projects, those projects bring in $337 million in revenue.

“Maine uses the most oil in the country per capita” he noted, adding that it is part of Maine's comprehensive energy plan to move away from oil.

Williamson showed a picture of a coastal scene with lobster buoys dotting the cove and led the audience through a thought experiment: “Imagine that we never had lobster fishing in Maine. Imagine that all of this was gone and had never existed. Now image that a company came in and suggested a great new industry that would employ thousands of people but you would have buoys and traps all over the place, and diesel engines starting up every day at 4:30 a.m. You’d have law suits, NIMBYism. No one would ever allow it.”

In an earlier panel on coastal marine spacial planning, Fisherman Richard Nelson of Friendship spoke of his involvement in the state and federal ocean planning process.  After seeing lobsters shed four weeks earlier than they had shed every year for the past forty years, he thinks fishermen are interested renewable energy because of its potential to combat climate change. "That's just as important to fishermen as anyone because we are being affected by it."