PORTLAND, Maine – A tidal power company that's running demonstration projects in Maine and Alaska is establishing an office in Ireland, where the company sees an opportunity for community-based projects that could open the door to the broader market in Europe, officials said Thursday.
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Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Company is setting up a subsidiary, ORPC Ireland LLC, in County Donegal at the Business Centre at Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
The company aims to establish small projects of 1 to 5 megawatts in northwestern Ireland, where County Donegal is home to the country's largest fishing port and miles of rural coastline reminiscent of eastern Maine, said John Ferland, vice president for project development in Portland.
"This provides us an opening into the larger, wider European market," Ferland said. "We've been having conversations with international markets for several years, and now is the time to step in."
Tidal power appeals because tides are predictable and water's density means fewer turbines are needed to create the same amount of electricity as wind turbines. There also are none of the aesthetic issues associated with wind farms.
Europe is at least a decade ahead of the U.S. with the first commercial tidal project going online in 2008 off the coast of Northern Ireland. Scotland is home to European Marine Energy Centre, providing developers an opportunity to test grid-connected prototypes.
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In North America, Ocean Renewable is running demonstration projects in Down East Maine and in Alaska.
In 2012, the company's tidal power project in Cobscook Bay near Eastport became the first to connect to a utility grid in the U.S. It was a modest start, with enough power for 25 to 30 homes. The company is now refining a larger, commercial "TideGen" unit with a goal of putting it in the water next year.
The company is also developing a smaller unit dubbed "RiverGen," which was successfully tested in a small community in Alaska. The company now believes river units could provide a bigger market.
Those smaller commercial units can serve small communities like those in County Donegal, and wouldn't compete with large commercial tidal projects in Europe, Ferland said.
Officials from County Donegal and Letterkenny Institute of Technology approached Ocean Renewable Power Company a couple of years ago and have seen Ocean Renewable units in action. Ocean Renewable's units use rotating foils that lend the appearance of a manual reel mower used for cutting grass.
Ocean Renewable's community-based approach focusing on smaller projects that utilize local companies as contractors and creating local new markets and job opportunities appealed to officials in County Donegal.
"We are eager to expand our renewable energy expertise and look forward to contributing to the founding of the marine renewables industry in Donegal with ORPC Ireland," said Paul Hannigan, president of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
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