MaineBiz| Local power: Peregrine Turbine’s new approach to distributed energy generation

When Peregrine Turbine Technologies LLC first asked Mid-South Engineering Co. for help with its new turbine engine, the engineering consultancy did what engineers do best: they tore into the design, researching all aspects of its feasibility and deciding if they wanted to be involved in the project.

“We did,” recalls Eldon Doody, director of operations in Mid-South Engineering’s Millinocket office. “We believe they are working on disruptive technology that could really have a big impact on the costs to generate electricity, whether it uses natural gas or biomass,” says Doody of the turbine, which also can be used in applications from aerospace to marine vessel propulsion. He adds that his company and Peregrine Turbine already have been talking to potential first installations, such as Brunswick Landing, Maine gas and electric utilities and various people in state government.

Peregrine Turbine’s first target for its Peregrine Engine — the company expects to complete a prototype 2016 — is distributed energy generation, where power is generated at the point of consumption rather than centrally, potentially saving the cost and inefficiency of energy transmission and distribution over long distances. Distributed energy in itself can disrupt the market: last spring, Central Maine Power and renewable energy advocates sparred over the utility’s plan to raise monthly charges on businesses and homes that produce their power by solar, wind or other renewable energy sources connected to the electric grid.

Yet distributed energy systems are making inroads in Maine and other areas of New England. A 2013 report by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., found nine community-based renewable pilot distributed generation projects in Maine, with a total installed capacity of 24.2 megawatts. The report predicted Maine will see little growth in such systems, however, because the state’s policies to promote distributed generation are not as aggressive as in most other New England states. “We anticipate that Maine will continue to experience modest growth in distributed generation installations and — barring the adoption of new, more aggressive policies — could expect to see up to 70 megawatts by 2021,” the report’s authors concluded.

But David Stapp, CEO and chief technology officer at Peregrine Turbine, believes his new turbine could be a game-changer. He sees his company’s technology as able to rival electricity prices of natural gas-fired, combined-cycle plants, which are popular now in the power industry. The difference is scale. Combined-cycle plants are typically for large cities like Los Angeles, for example, generating around 400 megawatts of electricity at high efficiency and low cost of about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, he says. Stapp expects the Peregrine Engine to produce electricity at 6.7 cents per kilowatt hour.

“With our engine, our efficiencies and capital costs are in the same ballpark as a natural gas-fired, combined-cycle power plant,” says Stapp, whose company is located at the Wiscasset Airport. “But because we’re [generating electricity] at the 6 megawatt scale, you can park this [turbine generator] in the community where the power is being consumed. You don’t have to pipe it over the grid.”

The idea, Stapp says, is for municipalities to own their transmission systems and use a Peregrine Turbine system to generate electricity and avoid transmission and delivery costs. Such delivery costs can make up half of an electric bill. For example, a recent residential bill from this writer totaled $71.22 for 459 kilowatt hours of electricity, with $36.52 of that going toward the delivery charge and $34.70 to the Standard Offer Service electricity supply.

Stapp is now talking to potential first installations for the technology, including Brunswick Landing and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In addition, the company is considering getting space in Brunswick Landing, because there is a jet engine test cell there that it intends to use.

Kristine Schuman, business development coordinator for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, became familiar with the Peregrine Engine in her former role as a governor’s account executive in the Department of Economic and Community Development. While she says she cannot comment on any possible use of the company’s system at Brunswick Landing, she says, “The technology they have is going to be something big. It has multiple uses and could be a breakthrough for energy power generation and different applications.”