“Someday they may be put to work.”, Yet the idea of harnessing the tides of Passamquoddy Bay never really died, despite the best efforts of Congress to drive a stake through its heart.
Origin. More significantly, the group has moved forward with river projects, looking for ways to economically harvest freshwater currents.
Lobster traps he explains, are baited with herring, which draws the crustaceans in. Some 115 billion tons of water flow in and out of Fundy in a 12-hour period. President Franklin D. Roosevelt surveys a working scale model of the Quoddy Tidal Power Project in Eastport, July 1936.
Paddling across a wide fetch, I’d sometimes hear something like a staticky, white noise gaining on me, then look behind and see an inexplicable frothy chop moving rapidly across the bay on an otherwise perfectly calm day, like something from a Stephen King novel. It’s still enough to make the fishing boats in Eastport’s harbor disappear from view twice each day. He’d owned a summer home in Maine for years, so that made his decision easier.
When ORPC arrived in Eastport, Sauer and his staff brought with them not much more than a broad concept: Drop an underwater turbine into a part of the bay with powerful currents and generate electricity on both the ebb and the flow. But not without economic cost: The blades powering the turbines move less energetically and thus produce less power. Simply put, there are two types of tidal power: those that use a dam and those that don’t. (ORPC eventually secured an initial $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy aimed at jumpstarting an emerging technology, along with additional capital from private investors.) Many engineers have made forays here, seeking to tap the tides of Passamaquoddy Bay and its environs. But no one had quite figured out how to make it work. When all that water backs up and starts to spill through these narrows, it creates formidable currents. Mills were constructed atop dams that could trap the high tide within creeks and inlets, and then use the falling water to power waterwheels. The father-son duo fished for herring as well as cod, haddock and pollock off the coast of the easternmost city in the United States. I lived in Eastport for four years—or, as I tend to remember it, four winters—and it was there that I learned a lot about the oddities of local tides, especially when out in my kayak. Army engineers would oversee the project. That steady flow, combined with the fact that 70 percent of all Americans live near a coast, planted within Sauer’s mind the seeds of an idea. Maine’s World Traveler Signpost | Up Close, Fall Weekend in Rangeley, Maine | Weekend Away, Who Yankees Are and Other Things Children Believe, Should We Educate Our Children About War?
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On a foggy and overcast day in July 2012, Chris Sauer stood before several dozen people near a boat ramp on Eastport’s west side. “I was sure it was going to work, but just not how well it was going to work.”, Sauer is a founder of Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), which is based in Portland and has an office in downtown Eastport. After producing power for a couple of months, the generator was pulled out for inspection, and ORPC found problems. “And with their guidance,” he notes, “we arrived at the design concept that we still have today.”, Along the way, Sauer came to another conclusion: Placing and maintaining turbines 18 miles offshore and more than 1,000 feet underwater would be fraught with engineering challenges, not to mention costs. Facts, legends whirl around Old Sow whirlpool Whirling on the Canadian side of the international border in waters called Western Passage between Eastport and Deer Island, the Old Sow whirlpool boasts currents of more than six knots, tides reaching 28 feet and chartered depths of 397 feet.
They were treacherous, because putting my paddle into one of them was like dipping into a vacuum, the paddle suddenly offering no resistance and nearly sending me upside down. Harvesting the moon—efficiently and economically—has been a challenge for generations, and may be so for generations to come. Two times a day the largest tides in the world roar in and out of this bay, moving billions of … When viewed from a kayak a hundred yards offshore, the tiny city of Eastport has the faux, overly tidy appearance of an HO-scale railway village. It was the largest and most ambitious of all the projects that have been proposed to harness the Fundy tides. What began as two weekly trips for over a dozen passengers on chowder boats has evolved into Eastport Windjammers. Nobody had a system we could buy, because those systems didn’t exist.”, Sauer made a cold call to a U.S. Navy research facility in Florida that employs 5,000 scientists responsible for just about any naval equipment that comes in contact with water. In the dead of winter 2004, he and his staff packed up their Florida office and relocated to a pier in Portland. Congress would eliminate the project’s funding later that year. “People said, ‘Either you’re committed or you should be committed,’” he recalls. He learned that the two best tidal flows in North America are at Cooks Inlet in Alaska and, on the East Coast, the Bay of Fundy. Dams, some of them a mile long, would link islands and the mainland between the United States and Canada, creating two vast tidal pools, which would be released in turn to power turbines that would generate some three billion kilowatt hours a year. For instance, it’s the easternmost city in the United States (although it may not pass muster in your definition of “city,” as it has just 1,300 residents). “Fishermen are the most independent group of people I’ve come across,” Sauer says. Chris Sauer, head of Ocean Renewable Power Company, with a model of the firm’s TideGen underwater turbine system. “They have to legally approve an unknown technology in a resource that’s never been studied. “Eastport has this history of big projects being proposed, and people become very cynical about them because so often they haven’t materialized, or people start to realize the drawbacks,” explains Ed French, an Eastport native and the longtime editor of the biweekly Quoddy Tides newspaper. “In this case, they didn’t make any big promises. Located amid the ferocious tides of the Bay of Fundy, Deer Island New Brunswick is a disconcerting place for divers. Permits and local approval in place, ORPC installed a test turbine in March 2010. “Butch” Harris at the helm of his new tour boat Pier Pressure in Eastport Harbor. Ports on the Bay of Fundy along the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia coasts experience the greatest tidal range in the world. “If the female lobster does have eggs, we put a ‘V’ notch on its tail,” Harris explained. In Maine, tide mills crushed gypsum in Lubec, sawed timber in East Boothbay, ground corn in Harpswell, and milled grain in Kennebunkport. About 150 feet of pilings gave way on an older section of the pier, crashing onto the Harris family’s schooner Ada Lore.
At age 5, the Eastport native accompanied his father— who also taught him the craft of boat building — to sein for herring, drag for scallops and on deep-sea fishing charters. As a boy, he was told to give the whirlpool wide berth especially in smaller craft. Think of the paddles on a sternwheeler steamship, or a hand-pushed rotary lawnmower anchored to the bottom of the bay. It’s a trade-off. When the tidal current comes in, the blades start spinning, stop at slack tide, and then resume spinning in the same direction when the tide begins to flow in the other direction. So it takes an extra hour for all that water to move in and fill the natural embayments, and then an hour for it to drain out again. At low tide, muddy flats emerge near coves, sometimes revealing the rotting-teeth-like stubs of old piers. “To make a living on the water and be your own boss, it really doesn’t get any better than that.”. “Along the way we see a lot of eagles coming and going,” Harris adds. Seals left the machinery alone.
“And when we first applied, we weren’t even familiar with the Roosevelt project.”. Sauer agreed, and he and ORPC staffers started attending lots of meetings. That’s more than triple the number of days required in order to apply to become a licensed captain of passenger boats in Maine. Reflecting the unknown unknowns that persist in tidal-power generation, it stopped working after a week. The construction of one of the most ambitious energy projects was about to get under way. He became a crusader for tapping the tides. What the fishermen couldn’t use, ORPC could. On July 4, 1935, Vice President John Garner pressed a telegraph key in Washington, D.C., setting off 600 pounds of dynamite in Eastport. The whirlpool is caused by local bathymetry and extreme tidal range where waters exchange between Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy, combined with the unusual topography of the location's sea floor at the confluence of the numerous local currents..
With regulators, they began the process early on, meeting with officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state to talk through their plans. Once extracted, lobsters are measured “from the eye socket to the back of the main shell.” They must be at least that length or be tossed back into the ocean. The fishermen suggested that ORPC look at one area off Goose Island, where, they said, currents were so strong that lobster traps would be swept away. A little over a decade ago he was living in Tampa, Florida, when he started thinking about sea currents.
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