The Quoddy Tides

Eastport, Maine

12 May 2006

Cutler eyed for LNG and tidal energy project

by Gail Menzel

A new proposal has been added to the list of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects put forward for Washington County, this one a combined tidal power plant and LNG terminal at the Navy antenna station in Cutler. Normand Laberge, a professional engineer of Trescott, says he mailed an application on April 29 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a preliminary permit to conduct a feasibility study of the site in Little Machias Bay. The 10-page form was submitted on behalf of Tidewalker Associates, of which Laberge is a principal along with two other individuals whom he declines to name.

The application seeks permission to study the feasibility of locating a rockfill dam with a clay core in the bay with "emptying/filling gates and similar appurtenances...adjacent to a concrete powerhouse near the center of the channel." The applicant estimates the capacity of the tidal power plant would be 36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

Laberge points out that continuous power cannot be generated by a "single pool tidal project" and envisions the construction of a LNG terminal "to complement generation from the tidal power plant." He proposes that an existing diesel power plant located on Navy property be adapted to use LNG as fuel and operate "whenever tidal power is unavailable." Further, he proposes that an LNG pipeline, 25 – 30 miles in length, be constructed from the federal property in Cutler to connect with an existing LNG pipeline at Wesley.

The primary user of the power generated, Laberge expects, would be the U.S. Navy, with excess power to be integrated within the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company's grid. Laberge, who is employed by the Navy as an environmental compliance officer, contends the conversion from diesel to LNG fuel would "successfully address" the present power plant's emissions of nitrogen oxygen compounds that he says are in violation of their existing license.

Tidal power projects are not new to Laberge, who says he was a consultant some 25 years ago to the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point when they had an interest in developing a plant at Half Moon Cove in Cobscook Bay. The tribe filed applications to build a tidal power generating station, he says, that were "turned back for deficiencies." In the meantime, "the Indian land claim settlement was reached," he explains, and the tribe decided to pursue other enterprises.

In the present FERC application, Laberge states, "The Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point has claimed a section of the Navy facility (i.e., Sprague Neck.)." He also notes that "preliminary discussions have been held with tribal leaders to join Tidewalker Associates in this cooperative endeavor." Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Lieutenant Governor Marilyn Francis says tribal leaders have adopted a new policy under which they will not comment to reporters on any aspect of tribal affairs.

If FERC approves, Tidewalker Associates says they will perform the studies needed to bring the project "to the licensing phase of development," including engineering analysis and design, environmental assessment, "establishment of financial infrastructure," and completion of the necessary applications for permits and licenses. The cost of the proposed studies is estimated at $500,000, which Laberge says would come from "personal resources and investors." He says he would reduce the cash outlay for expenses by performing much of the work himself, "on my own time." As for the LNG phase of development, he says he doesn't foresee difficulty in finding a "suitable partner" because of the "interest in LNG development" and "the inherent limitations associated with other LNG proposals in Maine."

Laberge acknowledges he has not spoken to Naval officials about his proposal, although his cover letter to FERC dated April 29 notes that a copy of the application will also go to the "chief of naval operation, U.S. Navy." Betty Vane, public affairs officer for the Cutler Naval site, known in Navy terminology as the Cutler detachment of NCTAMSLANT, said she was unaware of the Tidewalker application until reading about it in a daily newspaper, whereupon she faxed the article to NCTAMSLANT headquarters in Norfolk, Va. Navy officials there told her they were also unaware of the application.

Tamara Young-Allen of FERC said the Tidewalker application was received in their Washington, D.C., office on May 8. It will be reviewed for completeness, returned for corrections or additions if necessary, and assigned a docket number, she said. Usually, a notice is then issued by the agency inviting public comment. This should be a challenge, Young-Allen added, as she believes FERC hasn't seen a combination hydro-LNG proposal before.


© 2006 The Quoddy Tides
Eastport, Maine
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.