Tidal turbine: Best idea since sliced bread

In the old days, when an idea looked good, they used to say: “This is the best idea since sliced bread!” Although the old saying isn’t heard much these days, the same could be said about the production of electricity in the ebb and flow of high and low tide.

A business group in Maine is in the process of harnessing energy from the waters off Lubec, Maine. The tide in that area—Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Funday—is said to be the highest in the world, nearly 50 feet up and down twice a day. By comparison, the tide here this weekend is about 5 feet up and down. The flow of salt water in Washington County, Maine, has challenged generations of planners who would turn that unused flow of energy into electricity.

In the rapid swirl of new ideas during the past few decades, the making of electricity from flowing water has taken a back seat. Today it’s all about solar and wind. You don’t hear much about those hydro generators at Grand Coulee Dam in Oregon, or the Hoover Dam in Arizona, or the Tennessee Valley Authority dams in the Eastern U. S., all of which generate thousands of kilowatt units of electricity daily.

But a decade ago, the U.S. Energy Dept. and the Ocean Renewable Power Company in Maine quietly began work on the small-scale concept of producing electric power, and the first reports are very positive. The ORPCo. has installed a turbine made here in Rhode Island’s East Bay area to capture some of the energy flowing through Passamaquoddy Bay. The turbine was developed and built at Hall Spars on Broad Common Road, Bristol, using carbon fiber materials that they hitherto pioneered in creating some of the world’s tallest, toughest and lightest boat masts.

This ingenuity reminds us of the development of the first fiberglass boat hulls, which were built by Dyer Boats of Warren in the early 1950s under a contract with the U. S. Coast Guard. It also recalls the first hydro-powered cotton mill in the U. S. dating back to 1793 on the banks of the Blackstone River in Pawtucket by Samuel Slater. It also brings to mind the potential tide runs here in the East Bay area, such as the narrows between Tiverton and Portsmouth, and the flow of tides under the Mt. Hope Bridge, Barrington and Warren river bridges, and not the least, the mouth of Narragansett Bay at Castle Hill.

As it appears that the old Warren Manufacturing Mill on the Warren River is changing hands, perhaps its time to think about the power again, given the tremendous currents that run past the old mill.

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