The Maine Tidal Power Initiative: Linking knowledge to action for responsible tidal power development
University of Maine
- Teresa Johnson, School of Marine Sciences (team leader)
- Gayle Zydlewski, School of Marine Sciences (team leader)
- Chris Bartlett, Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension
- Jessica Jansujwicz, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Marine Sciences and SSI
- Michael “Mick” Peterson, Mechanical Engineering
- Huijie Xue, School of Marine Sciences
- Richard Kimball, Maine Maritime Academy, Mechanical Engineering
- James McCleave, School of Marine Sciences
The role of ocean-energy development in the context of global climate change and local interests intersects social, economic, environmental, and technological disciplines. These types of global and local challenges are aligned with the University of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative goals of producing knowledge and linking it to actions necessary for solving the complex social and environmental challenges facing Maine. This involves assessing how biophysical and human-initiated changes occur, understanding the implications of these interactions, and how decisions can be made in response these challenges. By studying the global, regional, and local social and economic characteristics of ocean-energy development, particularly tidal-power development, we aim to identify the best course forward for community stakeholders interested in developing this alternative energy source in Maine and beyond.
With funding from the US Department of Energy (US DOE) Maine Tidal Power Initiative (MTPI) biological scientists, physical scientists and engineers have been working with industry stakeholders to research environmental and technical challenges of implementing commercial-scale tidal power projects in the United States. The short-term vision of MTPI is to emphasize research related to commercial-scale projects in Maine. MTPI is currently expanding its focus to community-based tidal power development; where statewide interest is surging from the midcoast to Downeast. Due to the scope of this initiative, MTPI scientists (currently Zydlewski, Peterson, Xue, Kimball, and McCleave) are forming an advisory board to coordinate and prioritize statewide research efforts associated with tidal energy development in Maine.
A primary goal of MTPI is to emphasize sustainable (environmentally-responsible) development of this alternative energy resource. Biological assessment is one of the largest hurdles in the deployment of these technologies, also requiring the longest time for implementation. As a result, the MTPI prioritizes environmental assessment to ensure that baseline data are available at key sites for at least one year prior to any deployment. As such, MTPI has focused financial resources to research on establishing appropriate environmental protocols. The research effort has focused on the Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC) efforts in Passamaquoddy and Cobscook Bays. Baseline biological and physical data are being collected in 2009 and 2010; this experience will generate a set of standard methods and approaches which can be applied to other tidal energy sites. Preliminary protocols are being used by MTPI industrial stakeholders to link knowledge to action in the environmental regulatory process.
Sustainable solutions in the development of ocean-energy resources must be assessed concurrently from all dimensions, social, biological, physical, and economic. Success in one realm may not necessarily translate to success in another. For example, a community may support the development of tidal resources in their area, but the biological community may be too sensitive to allow development. Determining how to proceed in such a circumstance will be a complicated exercise, but having the right biological, technical and social research in place to model the connections among the biophysical and social dimensions of tidal energy could provide valuable input necessary for decision-making. For example, research might point community stakeholders to alternative sites that are more preferable for development.
Currently the MTPI research team lacks social scientists to conduct research in this area. However, these areas have not been ignored. MTPI PI Zydlewski worked with the State of Maine’s Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force (OETF) to document the social dimensions of ORPC’s work in Eastport, Maine, the largest tidal power project in the country. While the OETF effort cursorily documented the social dimension of the Eastport project, there has not been a concerted and detailed effort to document or assess the socio-economic dimension of tidal power in the global energy mix (or the cost of not developing this power) or at the level of local communities. We would like to make these vital connections between the technical (engineering, biological, and physical resource evaluations) research with social science and knowledge to action research in order to improve the sustainable development of this alternative energy resource.
To do this, we propose an SSI research project led by MTPI scientists, a team representing diverse disciplines (biology, engineering, oceanography, social science and policy) that will work with stakeholders to develop a more integrated understanding of tidal energy development. Key questions to be addressed include: What information and conditions are needed for effective decision-making related to tidal energy development at the commercial and community levels? What level of scientific detail (biological and physical) is required to answer questions posed by tidal energy stakeholders (developers, community members, regulators)? How are stakeholders and scientists engaged in the process and how does their involvement affect the process? How is new knowledge received by stakeholders and managers? Are scientists effectively communicating with stakeholders (and vice versa)?