New Bedford Energy Company Looks to Harness Canal's Current

By George Brennan
Cape Cod Times Staff Writer

A New Bedford-based company is seeking a license to harness the fast-moving currents of the Cape Cod Canal to generate electrical currents.
In November 2007, Natural Currents New England was issued a preliminary permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to install a test tidal turbine at the canal. The company announced this week that it intends to install a turbine once other permits are secured.
The Natural Currents project likely requires U.S. Army Corps of Engineer permits, which have not been issued, said Timothy Duggan, a spokesman for the Corps, which controls the canal.
“We feel it would have to go through our real estate folks and our navigational folks,” he said.
If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves what’s called a pilot license, which is expected to be filed by June 9, the company could begin installing a tidal turbine late this year or early next year, Natural Currents President Roger Bason said in a telephone interview. The pilot license allows the turbine to generate electricity and tie into the grid, which would be a major step for a hydrokinetic project.
The turbine proposed for the canal is capable of generating megawatts of electricity, although an exact size has not been determined, Bason said. One megawatt can power 400 to 500 homes, he said.
To obtain a pilot license, which expedites the federal review process, a project must be under 5 megawatts, said Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for the federal agency that oversees the permitting process. The licenses are issued for five years.
“There are adequate reviews for stakeholders,” Bason said.
The canal is an ideal location because it’s just 25 minutes from the company’s headquarters, Bason said. “It’s a demonstration location to grow out our industry,” he said.
Natural Currents is not the first company to look to the canal as a potential power source. Joseph Ignazio, president of Helical Turbine of Massachusetts, was issued a permit to test a tidal turbine in 2003.
Ignazio said Friday he still wants to pursue that but had difficulty getting funding.
Both Bason and Ignazio are hopeful President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, which includes money for renewable energy, will spur their projects forward.
The canal is of particular interest because its current changes direction every six hours and can reach speeds of up to 5.2 mph, Duggan said.
The canal project is one of a dozen projects across the country being pursued by Natural Currents New England, Bason said. The company was also issued a preliminary permit Dec. 30 to test a 100-kilowatt tidal turbine off Cuttyhunk and the Elizabeth Islands in Buzzards Bay.
A preliminary permit gives the company priority over the site for the next three years, Miller said. They must issue reports every three months to ensure they are continuing the study, she said.
Natural Currents is working closely with the Marine Renewable Energy Center located at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and with Bristol Community College to retrain people in the marine energy field, Bason said.
Contact George Brennan at
February 16, 2009
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