Maine took a step toward trying to harness tidal energy for its power needs last week with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with federal regulators. The MOU with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts into place procedures and schedules to review tidal energy projects off the coast of Maine.

FERC has similar MOUs in Oregon and Washington state.

"Maine is committed to developing our abundant renewable energy resources," Gov. John E. Baldacci said in a press release. "Our state has been aggressive in its pursuit of clean energy to help end our country's dependence on fossil fuels, and this agreement will help establish a coordinated and responsible partnership between Maine and FERC."

Maine has issued eight permits to private companies to study tidal power at specific locations. One company that has a study permit is Ocean Renewable Power Co., which has development offices in Maine, Florida, and Alaska.

Dana Murch, a hydropower specialist for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that Ocean Renewable Power has received some state and federal grants for a project it is working on in Eastport. The company has also been working with local fishermen to find a site that won't interfere with their catch, he said.

"Tidal energy is really where wind power was 20 years ago," Murch said. "Whether it takes tidal energy the same 20 years to get to where wind is today depends on how well the technology works, what the environmental impacts are, and how much venture capital developers can attract."

Because the technology is so new and still being developed, they do not know what the environmental impact could be, Murch said.

Under the MOU, Maine and FERC will notify each when they learn that a potential applicant is seeking a preliminary permit or license for a project so they can coordinate their review of the project and agree upon a schedule to process the applications.

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