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Experimental tidal energy project moves ahead in Admiralty Inlet

An artist
An artist's drawing provided by the Snohomish County PUD shows the turbines officials want to place off Admiralty Head to gauge the viability of tidal energy.
— image credit: Image courtesy of the Snohomish County PUD

A crew from Snohomish County PUD will be working from a barge anchored off Admiralty Head next week to learn more about the site of an experimental tidal energy project.

They will maneuver remote-operated vehicles from the barge to photograph the seabed that will be the site of two turbines.

Craig Collar, senior manager of energy resource development for the Snohomish County PUD, said the crew could start work Sept. 29. The barge could be anchored off Admiralty Head for as long as five days and will be visible from the nearby lighthouse.

The Snohomish County utility wants to place turbines in the waters between Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula to gauge the technology’s effectiveness. Collar said the turbine could produce as much as one megawatt of energy, but will probably average 100 kilowatts. If the turbines produce one megawatt, they would power approximately 700 homes.

“The whole purpose of the project is to gather data on the technical and environmental viability,” Collar said Thursday afternoon.

While the work crews are busy documenting the seabed, PUD officials are getting funding approved, licenses completed and plans drawn for the project.

Snohomish County PUD recently received $10 million from the United States Department of Energy. That award will fund approximately two-thirds of the project cost.

“This funding bolsters our efforts to operate and evaluate tidal energy technology in the Puget Sound in order to assess its technical, economic and environmental feasibility,” PUD Commissioners President Toni Olson said in a news release. “We’re excited to be leading the way in the research of this innovative energy source to meet the needs of one of the fastest growing areas in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Department of Energy grant was the largest amount in the country the federal agency awarded, Collar said. He added that the PUD’s research and development budget along with other grants will fund the remaining amount.

In addition to the submerged turbines, the PUD is planning to construct a facility at the Casey Conference Center to connect the energy produced to the power grid.

He said the PUD is looking to build a new sea lab for the Casey Conference Center and the connection equipment will be included in the new facility. He added that the project will be consistent with the conference center’s master site plan and will have to be approved by the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing.

In a best-case scenario, Collar said he hopes installation will begin sometime in 2012 and be completed later in the year. The project success will determine whether the PUD will explore installing turbines in other areas such as Deception Pass.

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