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Maine company ready to install tidal power unit

PORTLAND, Maine - With its federal license in hand, a Maine-based tidal energy company is ready to install its underwater power system for the first time on the floor of the ocean.

Ocean Renewable Power Co. aims to begin installation of its first grid-connected power unit in mid-March at a 60-acre site in Cobscook Bay at the nation’s easternmost tip.

The first unit capable of powering 20 to 25 homes will be hooked up to the grid this summer, and four more units will be installed next year at a total cost of $21 million for the project, said Chris Sauer, president and chief executive officer of the Portland-based company.

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Eventually, Ocean Renewable hopes to install more units to bring its electrical output to 4 megawatts at sites off both Lubec and Eastport. Ocean Renewable holds permits for three sites in the area, one of the world’s best tidal sites, where twice a day the tide rises and falls 20 feet.

All told, the company sees up to 50 megawatts of tidal power potential in the Eastport and Lubec areas, enough to power thousands of homes, Sauer said.

“It’s never going to be the dominant power-generating resource in the state of the Maine, but it’s going to be a significant contributor,’’ he said.

The Ocean Renewable turbine generator unit self-starts when the tidal current reaches about 2 knots, and is designed to produce up to 180 kilowatts under ideal circumstances.