If the Pennamaquan Tidal Power project meets all the permitting requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it will take at least five years before it's built, according Albion Goodwin of Pembroke, organizer of the Pennamaquan Power Advisory Committee. He was one of about 35 people present at a March 4 public discussion held at the Pembroke Elementary School by Pennamaquan Tidal Power LLC President Ramez Atiya. The meeting was organized by Atiya to further discussion about the project since the public hearing held by FERC last fall did not present "much opportunity to have dialogue," he explained in an interview.
Atiya had his hands full at the meeting. While handing a recorder back and forth to keep a record of questions, comments and responses, he was assailed with statements, some coming from more than one person at a time. The FERC process is layered with many different applications, public hearing and comment periods, studies, permits and requirements. Many of those attending expressed their confusion with the process, the nature of tidal energy, their distrust for studies and technologies not developed locally and their frustration with the lack of information available when it came to the project's potential environmental impact on the local habitat.
Dr. Robin Hadlock Seeley told Atiya that she was having a hard time taking the company's attempts to follow the FERC process seriously. She told him that she had worked diligently to write up study needs for the project's pre‑application document (PAD) study plan as part of the FERC public comment period. However, she said, she was concerned to read in a February 27 letter from FERC to the tidal company, "Your proposed study plan is patently deficient and must be rejected." The letter continues, "If you are unable to file an adequate study plan proposal, the ILP [Integrated Licensing Process] for your project may be terminated. Additionally, you should be aware that lack of progress in conducting pre‑filing consultation for the preparation of a license application may be construed as a lack of diligence." Seeley asked, "Why would you mess up a serious plan?" Atiya explained that the company had been given a month to come up with study plans. While they were given an extra two weeks it still wasn't enough time. Seeley commented that the company could have asked for an additional delay. "You wasted my time," she told him. "It's a complex process," Atiya said. The next study plan will be "rock solid," he assured her.
One Pembroke resident questioned the validity of the projected 120‑year lifespan of the tidal barrage. Of the ability of concrete to last that long under the harsh salt water conditions of the bay, David Sanders of Hardy Point Road exclaimed, "No, no, no!" He added, "If you go to any launching site, they don't last 20 years." In response to Atiya's explanation of existing cement projects around the world, including one in what he characterized as the much harsher Arctic environment, Sanders replied, "One hundred twenty years? No way. I absolutely disagree."
Atiya suggested to the audience that operating cycles and cement formulation technology are "thoroughly understood." The environmental concerns, however, are "where we have to put our efforts." He explained, "We are working to preserve the intertidal zone; this is the area that other projects have messed up." The environmental impact study plan requested by FERC, Atiya said, will be submitted in a little less than two months. If FERC accepts the plan, then the studies are set up. "The longest study would take a year," he answered when asked.
Along with a large roster of those with concerns, there were attendees who said they felt positively about the project, even if they had questions. Tim Sheehan was critical of the company's lack of one‑on‑one contact with project abutters, of which he is one. Despite that, he said, "I'm thinking we can work with you," if the return is enough to ensure a bright future for his children and grandchildren. Dams were being removed all over the country. "Why not do something like ORPC [Ocean Renewable Power Company]?" instead of the barrage, he asked. "I'm a businessman. I love the idea of tidal power." He added that Calais has its border and Eastport has its port, while Pembroke is "sitting on a gold mine" of potential power.
Sheehan referenced another potential supporter's suggestion of negotiating a lower electricity rate for Pembroke residents. However, Atiya explained that electrical power production and transmission is regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and goes into the New England Power Pool, where it is distributed to users. The company has a proposal submitted to the PUC for a power purchase agreement and would use investment tax credits as a tool for attracting funders.
The biggest economic impact on Pembroke, Atiya said, would be the $1 million in annual property taxes the operating plant would generate. How that money would be spent would be up to the town's residents and elected officers. While there were suggestions that the company plan to employ local people, fund scholarships and more, Atiya noted that it was early to be thinking of such things and that the focus needed to stay on the environmental impact studies first.