Admissions - Mass. Maritime Academy plans $7 million energy project
Photo from the Cape Cod Times.
As the dock wobbled beneath his feet on Tuesday, Capt. Thomas Bushy scanned the waters off Taylors Point. At the confluence of the Cape Cod Canal and waters flowing out of Buttermilk Bay, he saw a source of energy: the current.
The waters stand to become a national testing ground for the hydrokinetic energy industry in 2015, when Massachusetts Maritime Academy aims to complete an estimated
$7 million waterfront protection project with a dock jutting out toward the Cape Cod Canal to give energy firms a place to see how their turbines perform underwater.
The academy, which already has a wind turbine and solar panels, had long hoped to undertake a waterfront protection project to cordon off an area of calm water for its smaller boats.
But the project has evolved to include pens for aquaculture and, eventually, a system to lower hydrokinetic turbines to the seabed, offering companies an opportunity to test their designs and the academy's students, and faculty an opportunity to gain experience with the developing energy source.
Bushy, vice president of the academy's marine operations division, said the state school hopes to begin building next summer and plans to charge a fee to use the turbine system.
"Massachusetts Maritime Academy will be a facility that takes advantage of its real estate, its location and its willingness to help," Bushy said. "Once they have (a turbine) fabricated, they can take it here and we can put it in the water and test it."
Initial designs call for a dock extending 250 feet out into the ocean before turning left and extending toward the canal. Flowing about 4 miles per hour, the current is ideal — slow enough to not overwhelm small, conceptual designs while strong enough to show whether a prototype can stand up against a harsh ocean environment, according to academy officials.
"You've got eelgrass out there, you've got fish out there. The windmills just have birds," Bushy said. "There's a lot more stuff in the water. Any number of things can upset it. ... Saltwater and electricity don't get along. It's a challenge."
But the location also puts the academy in a permitting "dance" among the Bourne Conservation Commission, environmental agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the canal, Capt. Fran McDonald, the academy's vice president of operations, said.
McDonald said a shellfish bed off Taylors Point behind the site would not be affected by the project. And Lt. Cmdr. Hung "Tom" Pham said the dock would not interfere with navigation on the canal, noting that any boat coming close to the dock would run aground on a sandbar. The academy plans to begin the permitting process as early as the fall, Pham said.
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers and state DEP declined to speculate on the plans before receiving applications, but Bourne conservation agent Brendan Mullaney said the academy will face less stringent standards because it operates on state property.
"It didn't seem from the initial conversation I had that it was anything beyond the scope of what could be permitted," Mullaney said. "But we'll have to go through all the other state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction over projects like this."
The plans follow a 2011 demonstration of a small hydrokinetic turbine in the Muskeget Channel between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Funded by a $98,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the demonstration drew on research from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and employed a barge to test the small turbine's electrical output.
The energy center's director, John Miller, said the plans for a fixed system will allow for the testing of larger turbines and spare not just transportation costs but the permitting costs that eat up as much as 70 percent of the testing cost for companies — one reason hydrokinetic energy has lagged behind wind and solar power.
"Obviously, taking up a barge and anchoring it out in the channel is pretty costly, so if you can have a fixed test site where you can put these devices, it would save a lot of money," Miller said. "If you can have test sites where people can come and the permitting is in place, it just makes the system more efficient and effective."
Article written by C. Ryan Barber/ Cape Cod Times
July 22, 2013