Business, Finance & Economics

Exploiting the motion of the ocean

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L’ETETE, New Brunswick — For those unaccustomed to the Bay of Fundy’s powerful tides, watching them flow through the mile-wide L’Etete Passage is a disorienting experience.

On this rocky, fog-plagued coast, the ocean streaks past like a powerful river, the current so strong it carries small boats backwards and creates whirlpools large enough to swamp them. Six hours later, it flows just as fast in the opposite direction.

At the head of the Bay of Fundy 180 miles away, these tides reach 53 feet — the world’s highest — exposing the seafloor for as far as the eye can see at low tide. When the sea returns, the water rushes back in so quickly that you would have to jog to keep ahead of it.

People have long dreamed of harnessing these powerful tides to generate power. Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over a massive international energy project that would have dammed L’Etete and the other passages between Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy. The environmental and monetary costs of tidal dams thwarted the project in the early stages of construction, however. Subsequent efforts were also nixed before they got off the drawing board.

But now tidal power is back. Supporters hope new technologies will bring clean, renewable energy with little or no harm to the marine environment. These “in-stream” technologies require no dams. Rather, turbines are attached to the seafloor, where they are spun by the tides beneath shipping lanes, unseen and unheard by people ashore....

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