A local metalworking company, of all things, has become part of an effort to make Maine a national leader in tidal ocean energy.
Stillwater Metalworks in Bangor has teamed up with Ocean Renewable Power Co. of Portland to deploy a turbine unit off the coast of Eastport that will be the largest ocean energy device ever submerged in U.S. waters. The eight-employee firm assembled and fabricated steel components for a 46-foot-wide support structure for the installation, unveiled this afternoon at its Florida Avenue facility.
"It's so different than anything we've ever worked on before," says Stillwater President Chris Higgins, adding that tidal energy projects will represent a significant part of the company's future business. "This really opens the doors."
Harbor Technologies of Brunswick manufactured composite components for the frame.
Today's unveiling marks a final step leading to a major milestone for ORPC slated next month. The company will submerge the device -- comprised of a 10,000-pound electric generator flanked by yet-to-be installed hydrokinetic turbines -- early next month in Cobscook Bay. With a capacity of 60 kilowatts, and drawing energy from tides that rise upwards of 20 feet twice a day, the unit will be the largest of its kind ever in U.S. waters, according to ORPC.
"This is a huge deal," says Chris Sauer, ORPC's CEO. "We'll really establish Eastport as the tidal energy center of the U.S."
ORPC began testing a prototype of the turbine off the coast in late 2007. If all goes well during a two-month testing phase of its latest design, during which the Eastport Coast Guard station will draw electricity from the device, ORPC plans to have a commercial-scale tidal generator unit connected to the electric grid by the end of the year. Sauer hopes to have 200 megawatts of capacity installed by 2015.
The Portland firm has also teamed up with US Windblade and Custom Composite Technologies in Bath, as well as the University of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.
Bangor's Stillwater Metalworks, founded in 2002 under BanAir Corp.'s business incubator program, has proven itself adaptive and well suited to work with ORPC far into the future, according to Sauer. "These are not off-the-shelf components, obviously," he says. "This is new technology."
BY JACKIE FARWELL
Mainebiz Staff Reporter
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