Creating the next generation of a river-driven power system will be the focus of a testing facility at One North, the former Great Northern Paper Mill site in Millinocket.
Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. announced Monday it was partnering with Our Katahdin to create the testing center.
Ocean Renewable, known as ORPC, develops renewable power systems that harness energy from free-flowing rivers and tidal currents.
Its river power system will be designed to generate electricity from river and tidal currents without dams or impoundments, according to a news release.
“Our expansion into Millinocket provides ORPC with a second Maine product development site, complementing our successful and on-going tidal energy product development activities in Eastport,” Stuart Davies, ORPC’s CEO, said in the release. “Our company is expanding its footprint in Maine and adding jobs.”
The partnership with Our Katahdin will strengthen ORPC’s strategy for market growth, he added.
While terms of the Millinocket expansion were not spelled out, ORPC said its overall economic impact in Maine includes over $40 million spent statewide. ORPC has conducted business in Maine since 2006.
Our Katahdin is a volunteer nonprofit organization working to promote community and economic development in the Katahdin region. The organization focuses on forest, outdoor recreation and digital economies, with initiatives involving community development, entrepreneurship, industry growth and broadband improvement.
Our Katahdin has attracted a variety of companies to the site, including California-based Nautilus Data Technologies, which plans to build a $300 million data center.
Our Katahdin bought the mill site in January 2018 and has invested more than $8 million in infrastructure with the goal of luring digital companies, commercial and industrial manufacturers, forest product-based startups and other businesses that need the land and access to power and water the site provides.
“We welcome ORPC to the portfolio of innovative businesses working with Our Katahdin to help transform, grow and improve the greater Katahdin region’s economy,” said Sean DeWitt, president of Our Katahdin’s board of directors. “Our partnership with ORPC is yet another example of our area’s suitability for new economic opportunities related to innovative technologies.”
Electricity from the river
In 2021, ORPC’s RivGen Power System, operated in partnership with the village of Igiugig, Alaska, became the longest-operating hydrokinetic device in the Americas. The project provides baseload renewable power from the free-flowing Kvichak River to the remote community.
In 2022, with the addition of a second RivGen device, smart grid controls and a battery energy storage system, Igiugig expects to reduce its diesel-fuel use by 60% to 90%.
The Igiugig project is considered an example of how ORPC can provide clean renewable energy to remote communities, replacing diesel-fueled microgrids, lessening diesel dependence, and lowering carbon emissions, noise, and environmental risk.
Over 700 million people worldwide depend upon diesel microgrids, and 2 billion people have little or no access to electricity, according to the release. ORPC has projects in Canada and Chile, in addition to Alaska.
In Millinocket, ORPC will assemble, test and showcase a smaller version of the commercialized RivGen device, called Modular RivGen, for use in grid-connected markets, with applications for large rivers, electrical vehicle charging networks, hydroelectric facilities, irrigation canals and bridges, piers, breakwaters and flood controls systems.
COURTESY / ORPC
Seen here is a rendering of ORPC’s Modular RivGen device to be tested in Millinocket Stream at One North in Millinocket.
Along with using its own resources, ORPC secured funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office to help initiate associated product and market development.
ORPC will begin product testing later this year in Millinocket Stream adjacent to the former mill property. ORPC will also work with Our Katahdin on evaluating the site as a future production facility and showroom space in addition to testing facility infrastructure and demonstration of use cases such as electric-vehicle charging.
“We envision a full-service, river power system testing center to include material handling and installation equipment, and monitoring equipment that provides data regarding structural and operational criteria,” John Ferland, ORPC’s president, told Mainebiz. “This initial step establishes a foundation of activity and we will work with Our Katahdin on opportunities for expanded use — additional testing support, future assembly facility and showroom space, and demonstration of use cases such as EV charging.”
In the first year, he continued, the company envisions focusing on basic testing requirements and initiation of testing, along with conducting the planning necessary for next step implementation of the expanded uses, possibly beginning in 2023.
With regard to adding jobs, Ferland noted that ORPC employment in Maine is expected to grow by 40% this year, most of whom are employees in the Portland office and Brunswick engineering laboratory.
“We envision portions of this team and local contractors to help initiate testing activities this year, but in the next three years we estimate approximately six Millinocket-based jobs that would be a combination of ORPC employees and contractors assisting at the site,” he added.
ORPC has conducted business in Maine since 2006. The relationship with Our Katahdin came about through ORPC’s work with the Maine Technology Institute. The company views One North as a great opportunity for multiple reasons, said Ferland:
• Millinocket Stream provides an easy-access test site for device installation, operation and retrieval.
• The One North property has multiple redevelopment options.
• Millinocket is easily accessible via highway, air and rail connections, and is proximate to ORPC’s existing Maine locations.
• There is an opportunity to demonstrate future use cases and integration with existing infrastructure.
• ORPC’s approach aligns with Our Katahdin’s business model for the region that focuses on innovation and advanced technologies.
ORPC employs more than 20 people in Maine. The company is headquartered in Portland and has an electronics and engineering laboratory in Brunswick and a marine operations center for tidal energy testing in Eastport. The Eastport testing center includes a subsea support structure for anchoring in Cobscook Bay, a company office, equipment storage area and relationships with multiple local contractors. ORPC employs an operations manager on-site.