You'd expect the first pilot project license for a hydrokinetic energy project to occur in some wind-swept nautical haunt somewhere off the coast of Maine or in a Great Lake but no -- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) just issued its first pilot project license for a tidal energy project in the East Channel of New York City’s East River.

About ten years in the making, the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy (RITE) project is owned by Verdant Power and looks to mount turbines on the riverbed and use tidal currents to generate about a megawatt of electricity. The project will use up to 30 of Verdant's turbines, installed in stages.

The license allows Verdant Power to build out the RITE Project and to commercially deliver the energy generated by the turbines to local customers. Earlier phases of the project involved prototype testing from 2002 to 2006 and demonstration from 2006 to 2008. During the demonstration period, Verdant operated six full-scale turbines and delivered 70 megawatt-hours of energy to two end users in 9,000 turbine-hours of operation with no fouling or damage to the turbines from debris.

The East River, or any river, is a challenging environment for a turbine but the demonstration system performed well, according to Verdant, mechanically and electrically with underwater turbines that turn slower than terrestrial turbines.

Interestingly, the Verdant units operate bidirectionally, with passive yawing in ebb and flood tides.

The RITE Project demonstration system is the world’s first grid-connected array of tidal turbines, according to Verdant.

FERC has issued 100 preliminary hydrokinetic permits to study project feasibility. It's still too early in the game to understand all of the reliability issues and O&M involved in this technology or the real levelized cost of energy with this unique approach to generating power.