Marshfield Lawmaker Pushes for Offshore Hydrokinetic Energy (USA)

A Marshfield lawmaker is pushing to make one of the state’s oldest energy sources new again.

State Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, wants the state to encourage research and investment in hydrokinetics – the harnessing of energy from moving water – by allowing private companies and municipalities to sell back any energy they create through this technology to utility companies.

It’s a process called net metering that the state already allows for solar and wind energy, which is why Cantwell said they have succeeded locally. And it helps make the hydrokinetic industry more attractive for smaller companies looking to break in.

“Massachusetts really has an ability to be the leader in this area,” said Cantwell, who added that experts have told him that the state has “more untapped hydrokinetic energy right off the Massachusetts coast than 10 Pilgrim nuclear plants.”

While hydrokinetics is considered the newest alternative energy buzzword, it’s not really new.

Early settlers took advantage of the region’s coastline, rivers and streams to power their mills, almost exclusively powering the region by water, and societies throughout history have done the same.

Beginning in 1806, Quincy’s historic Souther tidemill captured the forces of the tides to power a grist mill and later a sawmill into the 20th century.

Instead of diverting water sources to drive a mill, researchers are working on devices that harness energy from the ocean’s tides and waves, as well as from upland rivers and streams.

In the United States, the focus so far has been largely on tidal energy. A project is underway in the Muskeget Channel off Martha’s Vineyard to generate an estimated 5 percent of the island’s energy needs from hydrokinetic technology.

The town of Edgartown has partnered with researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth to develop and launch the underwater turbines. A demonstration is planned Aug. 15 for lawmakers, local officials and renewable energy companies to learn more about how it works.

But besides rivers, the Martha’s Vineyard coast is one of only two areas of the state’s coast where a project like this is feasible. The other is the area around the Elizabeth Islands off of Falmouth.

Work is already underway to develop small devices that could attach to piers, docks, marinas or breakwaters to take advantage of the energy in smaller waves hitting fixed structures up and down the coast.

Daniel MacDonald, a professor at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology, has been developing such a device with a team of students. A prototype is ready, and his team is working on a patent with the university.

These smaller devices could be used by municipalities on public piers and docks, or even by local residents with coastal property. Most would not be visible to the public. They would remain under the water or look like buoys, blending in with other moorings.

But without the ability to sell back energy, MacDonald said, there may not be a lot of interest.

 “This will make it much more feasible for a municipality or individual homeowner to do it,” he said, referring to Cantwell’s bill. “They can sell some power back and the dollars and cents work out.”

Cantwell said other models could be installed on bridge embankments.

One of these small devices could generate enough energy for as many as 1,000 homes, Cantwell said.

A Boston-based company called Free Flow Power Corp. is studying a project for the Cape Cod Canal.

Still, experts insist much more research – and interest – is necessary.

“We’re looking at this (bill) as something that will ramp up interest and investment in the industry to fuel our efforts here,” MacDonald said.

He said several countries in Europe are about 10 years ahead of the U.S. in making the technology work because they’ve been investing in it since the oil crisis of the 1970s.

By Nancy Reardon Stewart (patriotledger)


Source: patriotledger, July 20, 2011;