Infrastructure

Cape Cod Tidal Turbine Receives First-of-Its-Kind Approval

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers signed off on the energy-generating device, which is to be installed on the Cape Cod Canal as part of a year-long test.

by Ethan Genter, Cape Cod Times / October 5, 2017

(TNS) -- BUZZARDS BAY — The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative has received approval to install a first-of-its-kind tidal turbine test site on the Cape Cod Canal.

"It really has potential to drive developers to the region," said John Miller, the nonprofit's executive director.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the collaborative a yearlong renewable license to run the test site near the railroad bridge, Miller said. The site will have a platform that can be raised and lowered from the canal, allowing hydrokinetic turbine developers to test out their equipment before going into full production.

An authorization letter from the Army Corps' regulatory division was signed and emailed to the collaborative Wednesday afternoon, and the project is now completely authorized, according to agency spokesman Timothy Dugan.

The project was approved under the state's general permits, after a finding by the Army Corps that it "will have only minimal individual or cumulative environmental impacts," according to the letter.

The canal is seen as an ideal test site because it is already used for industrial purposes and has currents that reach about four knots in either direction.

Although different types of hydrokinetic turbines are being built around the world, the most used model is a circular blade, similar to wind turbines, Miller said. The test site at the canal would be able to handle models that are up to three meters in diameter, a prized middle ground for turbine developers, according to Miller.

Full commercial-sized hydrokinetic turbines can get up to 10 meters across, but companies often want to test smaller versions before devoting the money on a larger scale, he said.

The site would be able to test one turbine at a time and two companies contacted the collaborative within a day of its approval, Miller said. Over the four years since the proposal was first publicized, the organization has been contacted by companies from around the world, he said.

There are conditions with the Army Corps approval. If North Atlantic right whales, a critically endangered species, are spotted in the canal, the collaborative must cease any pile driving, which would typically occur during installation, until the whales leave the canal. Pile driving must be ramped up over a 20- to 40-minute period each day it is occurring, to provide time for fish and marine mammals to leave the area, according to the authorization letter. In addition, the site can't be found to have any negative effects on the railroad bridge.

It must be removed by Sept. 29, 2018, unless the collaborative contacts the Army Corp at least four months before that date asking that it be kept in place, according to the letter.

While there are test sites in Canada and Europe, there has been no similar installation in the U.S. Turbines have been tested on barges, like the recent tests on the canal by Brown University, but those trials can only last so long and can't handle models as big as the canal test site, Miller said.

Barge testing can last a week, while the collaborative site could last for complete tide cycles and even longer, giving turbine makers a better idea of how their machines perform, Miller said.

Officials hope the installment is a boon for development in the area.

One of the goals of the Bourne Board of Selectmen is to remove all blighted property in town within five years and lure "blue" companies to the area. The test site could help with both and make the area a "hub" for marine technology, Selectman Michael Blanton said.

The project was funded by a $300,000 state Seaport Economic Council grant, said state Rep. David Vieira, R-East Falmouth, and was one of the first grants awarded by the council.

The idea is marine companies will want to be near the testing sites, he said.

"This will be the place to be: the Cape Cod Canal," Vieira said.

©2017 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.