Passamaquoddy Bay Projects

The Bay of Fundy has long been recognized as a very promising site for tidal energy. One site that has been of particular interest for such a project is the Passamaquoddy-Cobscook Bay (or, simply the ‘Quoddy Bay’) area. However, despite the promise this site has shown large-scale, projects have failed to come to fruition numerous times. Just what makes this site promising, and just what has stopped construction of tidal energy project?


First things first, just where is Quoddy Bay located?

Passamaquoddy Bay is located just at the entrance to the Bay of Fundy, every part of it save a sliver located within Canadian territory. The bay is quite rocky, with a maximum depth of about 115 meters. Cobscook Bay is adjacent to Passamaquoddy Bay, nestled securely within American boundaries. Much shallower than its Canadian counterpart, the maximum depth in Cobscook is about 45 meters. Narrow passages connect the two bays, both to each other and the Bay of Fundy itself.

Passamaquoddy Map

Source: Google Maps, with a slight bit of editing.

The Project:

The Quoddy Bay project was first proposed in 1912 by an American hydroelectric engineer named Dexter Cooper. He envisioned a barrage-style method of power generation in the area, with Passamaquoddy Bay being used as the ‘high’ pool and Cobscook bay as the ‘low’ pool. Projected outputs would by 300MW, with the ability to expand to 500MW. His plan raised concerns in a few areas: the environmental effect such a project would have, as well as the detriments to fishing and navigation in the area. As such, Cooper’s idea was never realized.

In 1935, the Passamaquoddy Bay Tidal Project Commission of the United States’ Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (try saying that 3 times fast) proposed to give the project a second look, this time using only a one-pool method and keeping the work solely American. Roosevelt gave it the green light, and a few of the necessary structures—such as a few dikes— were constructed. However, at the staggering cost of $68, 158, 000 Congress discontinued funds to the project and it was halted.

It was also noted by the Federal Power Commission that, at the time, developing the US-only waters would not be able to compete with both actual and potential hydroelectric power generated by the rivers in Maine. The Commission did, however, state that their conclusion should not automatically disqualify the possibility of a large project carried out by both Canada and the United States.

Trying it Again:

The United States and Canada decided to explore the possibility of such a large-scale, international tidal project and in 1941 appointed an International Joint Commission to take a look at the existing plans and decide whether such a project was desirable.

The International Joint Commission appointed two more committees to help them with their work—one committee to look at the effects a project of this scope would have on fishing, and another to look the technical aspects (material required, cost benefits to each country)

Results and Findings:

The Fishing Commission looked in to several different changes the project could potentially make in the area, such as changes to oceanography or the change in vertical mixing in the waters. They also examined the effect the project would have on several different species of marine life, but focussed mainly on herring, as that was the biggest industry in the region.

They concluded the project would not change the oceanography of the region too much, and what it did change would be minimal. The herring, they also wrote, would not be affected. The project would affect neither their spawning grounds, nor the area of the ocean they actually lived in. The project would, however, eliminate completely 6 herring weir sites, and the rest would have to be relocated or altered. The same would happen to the lobster industry in the area. This element added significant cost to the overall project.

The Engineering Commission studied mainly the structures necessary for the tidal project, but focussed as well on the economic implications for both countries. It noted that the project would draw many workers to the area and act as a catalytic agent in the regeneration of the economies on both sides of the border, even if only temporarily.

Overall, however, they found that the project would not be economically justifiable for Canada. The cost to build would outweigh any profit the region would receive during construction

And in the end:

Overall, the commission decided that while the project was feasible, it was not recommended. It was written that, at least on the American side, it was a better idea to develop other hydrological power projects in the area before turning attention to the Bay of Fundy.

The project was ultimately rejected for various reasons on both sides. American congress once again found it too costly, especially given the other sources of energy found in Maine. For the Canadian government, the cost of the project was not economically justified, and there was too much concern over the effects the project would have on the fishing industry.

For now, it seems the idea has been shoved aside, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make a reappearance sometime in the future as we look for renewable, dependent sources of energy.


Brooks, David A. “The tidal-stream energy resource in Passamaquoddy-Cobscook Bays: A fresh look at an old story.” Renewable Energy, 31, no. 14 (November 2006), (Accessed March 3, 2012)

The International Joint Commission. Report on the International Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Project, Washington and Ottawa. July 1961

International Passamaquoddy Fisheries Board. Report to International Joint Commission, Ottawa, Ontario, Washington, D.C. Report with Appendices. October 1959

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