State eyes ocean tides and wind for energy development

A tidal generator is lowered into the water. — Photo courtesy of John Miller

The first in-the-ocean demonstration project by UMass Dartmouth’s New England Marine Renewable Energy Center (MREC) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) of a tidal energy device in Massachusetts ended this month.

As it did, officials outlined plans to establish a 300-square-mile, first-in-the-nation test site off Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, according to a press release from UMass Dartmouth.

The MREC initiative’s goal is to incubate wave, tidal, and off-shore wind technology, to capture a significant amount of the estimated 500-plus gigawatts of wind, tidal, and wave energy judged to be available off the coast of New England. Analysts believe the marine renewable energy sector has the potential to generate significant economic impact through research, development, and manufacturing activity across New England. Massachusetts may be well-positioned to compete in this sector, due to the deep water ports and skilled maritime labor in coastal cities such as New Bedford and Fall River.

On Monday, state officials gathered in Falmouth to learn about the project. Project leaders canceled a planned expedition to visit a work barge anchored south of the Vineyard, because of inclement weather.

“This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the capability of Massachusetts and New England as a leader in marine renewable energy development,” UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said. “MREC is an example of the public/private collaboration that is necessary to launch new industries and create new job opportunities.”

“Examining ways to harness the ocean’s tidal power to produce renewable energy is a logical step in the Commonwealth’s efforts to encourage green energy solutions,” added Senate President Therese Murray.

U.S. Senator John F. Kerry commented, “This in-ocean test site will allow us to make critical investments in research and development that will help spur clean, renewable energy innovation right here in Massachusetts. But more importantly, this project creates jobs, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, and drives our economy forward, and that’s a win-win-win for everyone.”

And U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, whose district includes the Cape and Islands, said, “Investments in clean energy will help propel our economy forward — both nationally and locally — and that means putting people back to work. At the very least, that is reason enough to support this project, but the fact that clean energy technologies will also contribute to the protection and preservation of Massachusetts’ unique ecosystems is an added benefit.”

The demonstration featured technology developed by Free Flow Power and FastCap Systems, two Massachusetts marine energy technology developers. “Creating a test site to demonstrate and research hydrokinetic devices will continue to brand Massachusetts as a leader in the clean energy sector,” said Henry Dormitzer, President of Free Flow Power. “We want to thank the Patrick Administration and MREC for their efforts in helping companies like Free Flow Power succeed in Massachusetts.”

Free Flow Power’s prototype underwater turbine, designed for use in rivers, was lowered into the ocean near Muskeget Channel on August 10 and has been capturing energy from ocean current over the past several days. The turbine’s acoustic characteristics and its impacts on micro-organisms are also being studied by UMass Dartmouth marine scientists. The turbine was lowered into the ocean from the Mass. Maritime Academy test barge. FastCap Systems’ energy storage technology is attached to the barge to capture energy generated by the turbine.

According to a press release, the New England MREC is an organization composed of academia, government agencies, industry, municipalities, public interest groups, and concerned individuals. MREC’s focus is to foster the development of ocean-based renewable energy (wave, tidal, current and ocean wind). MREC is developing a network of technology developers and energy users who will collectively define the needs of this nascent industry and work to bring together the required technology, capital, infrastructure, and human resources to implement ocean-renewable energy in the most sustainable manner for the region. Research partners include: UMass Amherst, UMass Boston MIT, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, UNH, URI, and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Industry partners include: SAIC, Resolute Marine Energy, NortekUSA, Free Flow Power, Flow Design, Ocean Renewable Power Company, and Alden.

The New England Marine Renewable Energy Center (MREC) has proposed a 300-square-mile Northeast Offshore Renewable Energy Innovation Zone (NOREIZ) to provide an area for development of technology. NOREIZ is included in the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan and will be governed by a Board with representatives from state government and UMass Dartmouth. MREC intends to use the NOREIZ as an area for the study of the marine environment and the establishment of permanent test sites.