Jul 19 2016

Case Study: Muskeget Channel Tidal

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Nantucket Sound’s waters flow to the Atlantic through Muskeget Channel, bottom right, with Edgartown, Mass., visible in the distance, upper left. (© Bill Brine/Martha's Vineyard Times)

Nantucket Sound’s waters flow to the Atlantic through Muskeget Channel, bottom right, with Edgartown, Mass., visible in the distance, upper left. (© Bill Brine/Martha’s Vineyard Times)

Across Nantucket Sound from Cape Wind, lies another dead-in-the-water, ocean renewable project.  But unlike its controversial neighbor just north, Muskeget Channel Tidal Energy wasn’t shipwrecked by a Kennedy clan1, or well-heeled neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard.2 Instead progress tanked due to a lack of the original green energy — money.

It's that simple. (Jerry McGuire/© TriStar Pictures/Gracie Films)

Jerry, you better yell. (© TriStar Pictures)

Despite raising more than $2 million in state and federal funds, proponents still need $300,000 for additional fishery and archeological studies to satisfy federal requirements.3

“Early experience was that about 70 percent of the cost of an ocean demonstration was just the permitting,” said John Miller, executive director of non-profit MRECo (Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative).3

Muskeget Channel is unique for two reasons:4

  1. Edgartown, a municipality, holds the development rights and not a commercial entity. Environmental studies are being conducted by the University of Massachusetts, and all results public.
  2. Edgartown committed to reserving a permanent tidal test site, saving developers money while also benefitting the industry at-large.
Edgartown harbor on Martha's Vineyard. (© John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Edgartown harbor. (© John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Location: Strong tides flow through Muskeget Channel, with velocities of 3.8 knots at flood and 3.3 knots at ebb.5 The closest grid connection is 5.5 km away on Chappaquiddick Island, with two harbors on Martha’s Vineyard that could provide shoreside support.6

Nameplate Capacity: 5 MW pilot project, generating enough electricity for 1,500 homes each year.4 If successful, developers would expand to a larger array producing up to 20 MW,3  enough to supply 20 percent of Edgartown’s power needs, or 5 percent of the whole island’s power.7

Cost: $35 million for pilot.8 Generated electricity would cost an estimated 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt hour.3 After submarine cable installation (another $5 or 6 million), “a developer could go in and develop it for under 20 cents a kilowatt, which is commercially viable” says Miller.7

Proposed subsea cable routes from Muskeget Tidal turbine to the nearest grid connection, 5.5 km away in Edgartown, Mass. (HMMH Inc. / Muskeget Channel Tidal Energy Project, FERC Project No. 1301 Draft Pilot License Application)

Two proposed subsea cable routes from turbine to the nearest grid connection. (HMMH Inc. / Muskeget Channel Tidal Energy Project, FERC Project No. 1301 Draft Pilot License Application)

Technology: 14 turbines, positioned “in the deepest segment of the channel at a minimum depth of 100 feet.8 Developers plan to use a helical turbine — OCGen — designed by Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC),9  and already tested in Cobscook Bay, Maine.10

Ocean Renewable Power Company’s OCGen Power System, consisting of helical turbines, top left, stacked together and moored off the seafloor in a tide engine module, top right. (ORPC) At bottom, John Ferland, vice president of project development with ORPC, stands inside one of its all-composite turbines in Feb. 2010. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald ©)

ORPC’s OCGen, consisting of helical turbines, top left, stacked together and moored off the seafloor in a tide engine, top right. (© ORPC) At bottom, John Ferland, VP of project development with ORPC, stands inside one of its all-composite turbines in Feb. 2010. (Gregory Rec/© Portland Press Herald)

Environmental Impacts:
Scouring and circulation impacts were determined to be minimal.11 “Muskeget Channel appears to have very limited benthic infauna and epi-fauna”.12

Developers acknowledged “direct impacts from noise produced during project construction and operation on…species that are sensitive”, particularly endangered right whales.8 Researchers also warned of “ship strikes due to increased vessel traffic from maintenance, and collision or entanglement risks from subsurface lines”.13

Gray seals haul out on Muskeget Island. (© Charlotte L Richardson/Flying Dinosaur.org)

Gray seals haul out on Muskeget Island. (© Charlotte L Richardson/Flying Dinosaur.org)

The channel provides crucial habitat to “the largest gray seal pupping colony in the U.S.”,13 and endangered Common, Least and Arctic Terns nest on nearby islands. Eelgrass, which acts as an underwater nursery, is “found in patches along the proposed route of submarine cables”.8

While waters near the turbines would become inaccessible to fisheries, creating a de facto no-take zone (NTZ) could be highly “ecologically beneficial to both the protected area itself and to nearby areas”.13  The Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation, which also rallied against Cape Wind, for now “are staying super neutral”.14

Edgartown Harbor. (© Bill Brine/Flickr.com)

Edgartown Harbor. (© Bill Brine/Flickr.com)

Future: 

Edgartown is seeking funds for the remaining environmental studies from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Commission15, but there is no information on when the grant process will be complete.  FERC recently set a deadline for town authorities, requiring them “to show cause, within 30 days, why Commission staff should not terminate the prefiling licensing process for the project”.16

Project proponent and self-described optimist, Arthur Smadbeck, admitted “without…funding…it’s going to be very difficult to move forward.”14

For all its promise, the future of tidal energy in Muskeget Channel looks dim. Perhaps most tellingly, MRECo does not list the project on its own “Current Projects” webpage. Instead it features plans for a new Bourne Tidal Test Site, in neighboring Buzzards Bay.17

Ocean renewable projects in Nantucket Sound. (Adapted from CNN.com)

Ocean renewable projects in Nantucket Sound. (Adapted from CNN.com)

References:

1. Kennedy, R., December 16, 2005, An Ill Wind off Cape Cod, New York Times,  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/opinion/an-ill-wind-off-cape-cod.html (July 10, 2016)

2. Seelye, K., Oct 22, 2013, Katharine. Koch Brother Wages 12-Year Fight Over Wind Farm, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/us/koch-brother-wages-12-year-fight-over-wind-farm.html (July 10, 2016)

3.  Maas, S., April 8, 2016, Canal will be a proving ground for tidal turbines, Boston Globe, https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/04/07/tidalpower/RJTFbOkT2240YOD0OsdPCP/story.html (July 7, 2016)

4. MREC, 2016, Muskeget Tidal Energy Project, New England Marine Renewable Energy Center, http://www.mrec.umassd.edu/resourcecenter/muskegettidalproject/ (July 6, 2016)

5. Previsic, M., Polagye, B., and Bedard, R., June 10, 2006, System Level Design, Performance, Cost, and Economic Assessment – Massachusetts Muskeget Channel Tidal In-Stream Power Plant, EPRI, http://www.re-vision.net/documents/System%20Level%20Design,%20Performance,%20Cost%20and%20Economic%20Assessment%20%20Massachusetts%20Muskeget%20Channel%20Tidal%20InStream%20Power%20Plant.pdf (July 7, 2016)

6. Hagerman, G., and Bedard, R., October 2, 2006, Massachusetts Tidal In-Sream Energy Conversion (TISEC): Survey and Characterization of Potential Project Sites, EPRI, http://www.hgenergy.com/Tidal_003_MA_Site_Survey_Report_REV_1.pdf (July 7, 2016)

7. Morris, B., December 28, 2014, Edgartown Explores Tides As Potential Future Renewable Energy Source, WCAI, http://capeandislands.org/post/edgartown-explores-tides-potential-future-renewable-energy-source#stream/0 (July 7, 2016)

8. HMMH Inc., January 31, 2011, Muskeget Channel Tidal Energy Project, FERC Project No. 13015, Draft Pilot License Application, New England Fishery Management Council, http://archive.nefmc.org/habitat/cte_mtg_docs/120124-25/muskeget%20channel%20materials/Muskeget_Tidal_FERC_license_app.pdf (July 8, 2016)

9. Ocean Renewable Power Company, Turbine Generator Unit, ORPC.co, http://www.orpc.co/orpcpowersystem_turbinegeneratorunit.aspx (July 10, 2016)

10. OffshoreWind.biz, Oct 30, 2014, ORPC’s Tidal Energy System Successfully Proves Its Performance, OffshoreWind.biz, http://www.offshorewind.biz/2014/10/30/orpcs-tidal-energy-system-successfully-proves-its-performance/ (July 7, 2016)

11. Hakim, A., Cowles, G., and Churchill, J., The Impact of Tidal Stream Turbines on Circulation and Sediment Transport in Muskeget Channel, MA, Marine Technology Society Journal, v., 47, pg. 122-136

12. Howes, B., Sammy, R., Schlesinger, D., Bartlett, M., and Benson, J. January 15, 2011, Environmental Effects of Sediment Transport Alteration and Impacts on Protected Species: Edgartown Tidal Project Topic Area II: Marine Science and Hydrokinetic Site Specific Environmental Studies, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and HMMH Inc., http://www.mrec.umassd.edu/media/supportingfiles/mrec/resourcecenter/muskegettidalproject/umass_smast_hydrographic_sediment_field_surveys.pdf (July 7, 2016)

13. Leeney, R., Nichols, O., Sette, L., Wood LaFond, S., and Hughes, P. September 2010, Megavertebrates and Fishery Resources in the Nantucket Sound – Muskeget Channel Area Ecology and Effects of Marine Renewable Energy Installations, Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. and Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, http://www.mrec.umassd.edu/media/supportingfiles/mrec/resourcecenter/muskegettidalproject/Sediment_Transport_and_Protected_Species.pdf (July 8, 2016)

14. Elvin, A., June 29, 2016, Tidal Energy Project Gains Fresh Momentum, Vineyard Gazette, https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2016/06/29/tidal-energy-project-gains-fresh-momentum (July 7, 2016)

15. Grisset, T., June 28, 2016, Edgartown’s Muskeget tidal project faces questions, JDSupra Business Advisor, http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/edgartown-s-muskeget-tidal-project-82747/ (July 7, 2016)

16. Tidal Energy Today, June 29, 2016, FERC urges Edgartown to complete tidal project application, Tidal Energy Today, http://tidalenergytoday.com/2016/06/29/ferc-urges-edgartown-to-complete-tidal-project-application/ (July 7, 2016)

17 . MRECo, 2016, Current Projects, Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative, http://www.mreconewengland.org/current-projects/ (July 7, 2016)