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Wind and wave renewable energy devices to be tested in Massachusetts coastal waters

FAIRHAVEN – A crowd that included government officials, marine scientists and researchers from the public and private sectors gathered on Fairhaven’s Union Wharf on Friday to watch the launch of a barge carrying some of the latest ocean-related energy technology prior to its deployment to Muskeget Channel.

The strong tidal currents in this narrow passage between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket can attain speeds of up to 6 knots and, over the coming months, the barge, from the University of New Hampshire, will test a tidal current generator there for a private company.

The potential to extract clean, renewable energy from the waters off the Massachusetts coast is unlimited, according to John Miller, executive director of the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center, which operates out of UMass Dartmouth. “There is enough energy in the wind, waves and tide in the waters off our shores to meet the total electric demand in New England today,” Miller told the gathering.

But new technology needed to harness the energy from ocean waves and tides is still under development and needs to be tested, Miller said.

“So that’s what we’re doing here today,” he said. The testing is funded by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, he said.

Speaking at the event, Congressman William Keating, who is running for election in the new 9th District against Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, said it is vital the United States end its dependence on crude oil and fossil fuels.

“It’s one of our most pressing needs in terms of our economy, our environment and our national security,” he said. Massachusetts leads the East Coast in its pursuit of this technology, he said. “And the focus of that is right here in Southeastern Massachusetts and the islands,” Keating said.

In addition to the aluminum barge and its instruments, a number of other research tools and devices were displayed on the wharf.

UMass Dartmouth professor Dan McDonald showed off a device, designed and built by the school’s senior mechanical and electrical engineering students, intended to harness wave energy on piers.

“It’s a fantastic design and we’re hoping to get it into a wave tank soon,” McDonald said.

Also on show were a device to capture electricity from waves, now being tested by Resolute Marine Energy, a private Boston company, as well as a large energy device owned by Free Flow Power of Boston, to be used in rivers with powerful currents.

“This whole project is a partnership of both private and academic groups working on projects that are going to be the future,” Dr. Steven Lohrenz, dean of the School for Marine Science and Technology, told The Standard-Times. “There are all different scales of activities and it’s a pretty exciting area to be involved in now.”

State Rep. Bill Straus, D-Mattapoisett, stressed the need for the state to continue its financial support for all of the marine research conducted by UMass Dartmouth.

“The research done there over the years has had a tremendous impact on the region already,” he said.