In the world of alternative energy Costal Massachusetts is best known for the controversial Cape Wind Project. This project has been met with tremendous resistance on a range of issues from it's impact on the local fishing industry to the concern that it will mare the picturesque ocean view. This bitter battle between public and private interests has kept this initiative stuck in a mire of bureaucracy and litigation since 2001. Just 10 miles away, residents of Edgartown are taking the development of renewable energy into their own hands and hope their plans to put these turbines underwater will meet less turbulence.
The project, led by town selectman Art Smadbeck and resident Kitt Johnson, would place 50 tidal turbines in the Muskegat Channel between Chappaquiddick and Nantucket. According to a preliminary assessment by the Electric Power Research Institute the site could generate and average of 2 megawatts during peak times of the day, enough to power approximately 1500 homes.
Last year Edgartown learned that a private company, NY based Natural Currents Energy Services, was quietly trying to gain the rights to the channel. If Currents Energy Services won the rights, Edgartown would not have access to this valuable resource, an area that is one of the relatively few spots across the globe that is suitable for generating tidal current energy within today's technological constraints.
They realized that they had to act fast. In a mad dash, town officials and private citizens spent hundreds of hours preparing the 82 page preliminary permit application and got it in just before the deadline. Because of federal regulations that give local municipalities first dibs on local waters the Town of Edgartown won the rights. On March 31, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted a permit for Edgartown and the University of Massachusetts to study the feasibility of the tidal-energy project. UMASS began their testing in June.
The permits are just preliminary and the project has a long way to go, but the town of Edgartown and it's residents are optimistic and enthusiastic. Johnson explains...
"Edgartown is hopeful that the final analysis will show that the cost of producing electricity with the tide engines would be around 10 cents per kilowatt hour, which would be a significant savings over the current price. Since this would be a fairly fixed price, the savings would only grow over the years if electricity prices continue to increase at the rate that fuel prices have been going up. If we can start to lock in a reliable supply of electricity, that's such a benefit to the town."
On the other side of the island in Vineyard Sound there is another tidal energy project in the preliminary stages. This project, the Cape and Islands Tidal Energy Project, is a private venture by Massachusetts Tidal Energy Co. They want to put in 150 underwater turbines that would generate 1-3 megawatts, but they have still not determined if the current will be strong enough in this location to make the project viable. They estimate that they will need a current flowing at 2 m/s to make the project work. Their initial tests have shown a current flowing at about 1.5 m/s just shy of their target.
At any rate, if these tidal projects prove to be viable they will hopefully be met with less controversy and opposition than the local wind project.