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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, January 2012
WEB Exclusive story

Tide’s Churning

An archival photograph shows the Verdant Free Flow turbines on their way to deployment in the East River.
All images courtesy of Verdant Power

A project in the East River snares the first license from FERC.

An up-close rendering of the turbine in action.
An up-close rendering of the turbine in action.

hen you think of tidal power, the first spots on the globe that come to mind might include the Bay of Fundy, the Pacific Northwest, the Severn estuary in Wales, the North Sea off the Scotland coastline or maybe the Gulf of Kutch in India.

The bottom of the East River in New York City is probably not one of them.

But earlier this week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued its first pilot project license for a tidal energy project to the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) Project.

Owned by Verdant Power, the project uses turbine generator units mounted on the riverbed to capture energy from the tidal flow, currently (pun intended) generating 1,050 kilowatts.

The pilot license issued to Verdant Power is for 10 years, which is also the time elapsed since the RITE Project was initiated in 2002.

"Issuing a pilot license for an innovative technology is a major step in the effort to help our country meet our renewable energy goals," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. "FERC's pilot process is doing what it should: allow for exploration of new renewable technologies while protecting the environment."

FERC said it has seen rising interest in the possibility of developing hydrokinetic projects. FERC has issued 100 preliminary permits to study the feasibility of developing a specific project. Another nine entities are in the pre-filing stages of developing license applications, and three entities in addition to RITE have filed license applications (see list below). The RITE application was submitted to FERC in December 2010.

Kinetic Energy Spreads

Through its Canadian unit, Verdant also operates the Cornwall Ontario River Energy (CORE) project, which could ultimately generate up to 15 MW from the currents of the St Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ont. That project began in 2007 with a Phase 1 pilot demonstration.

Verdant says the RITE Project is a prime example of how its Free Flow Kinetic Hydropower System can be scaled for placement directly within a population center. The project's demonstration phase ended in 2008, two years after the company installed its first full-scale turbine into the river. Ultimately an array of six turbines was deployed, making it the world's first grid-connected array of tidal turbines.

Among the outcomes, says Verdant:

  • Excellent hydrodynamic, mechanical and electrical performance;
  • Grid-connected power with no power quality problems;
  • Fully bidirectional operation – passive yawing with high efficiency on both ebb and flood tides;
  • Automatic control and continuous, unattended operation;
  • No fouling or damage from debris;
  • 70 megawatt hours of energy delivered to two end users;
  • 9,000 turbine-hours of operation.

Trey Taylor of Verdant Power says the two end users were Gristedes Supermarket and the Motorgate, a large parking and  maintenance garage run by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). Other partners on the project include New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), New York City Economic Development Corp. and National Grid.

The FERC license will now allow Verdant Power to build out the RITE Project in the East Channel of the East River to a 1-MW, 30-turbine Free Flow System, and to commercially deliver the energy to local customers.

Asked how many other end users are interested, Taylor says by email, "Other interested end users are too many to count, given we are generating clean energy in New York City."

Hydrokinetic Projects Under Review by FERC

Projects in Pre-filing for License
Coos Bay Wave Commercial Oregon 100 MW
Douglas County Wave Commercial Oregon 3 MW
N.Y. East River Tidal Pilot New York 0.2 MW
Cook Inlet Tidal Pilot Alaska 5 MW
Admiralty Inlet Tidal Pilot Washington 1 MW
Mississippi River Projects In-River Commercial Mississippi River 7,883 MW (70 projects)
Muskeget Channel Massachusetts 5 MW
Turnagain Arm Tidal Commercial Alaska 240 MW
Whitestone Poncelet Tidal Pilot Alaska 0.1 MW
Projects in Post-Filing for Licence or 5-MW Exemption
Reedsport OPT Wave Park Wave Commercial Oregon 1.5 MW
Tideworks Tidal 5-MW Exemption Maine .005 MW
Cobscook Bay Tidal Pilot Maine 0.3 MW
Roosevelt Island Tidal Pilot New York 1.05 MW
The new FERC license will permit Verdant to lower more turbines into the East River, bringing the array from six units to 30.

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