Cable, plants may trip up Admiralty Inlet turbine project

The proximity of rare plants and an international communications cable may present obstacles for a plan to locate tidal turbines in Admiralty Inlet.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District submitted a final license application in March to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit to install two energy-producing turbines in Admiralty Inlet. The proposed location is one kilometer west of Central Whidbey’s Keystone Harbor.

But the pilot project has some challenges.

Among the groups that have filed as intervenors is Whidbey Environmental Action Network, commonly known as WEAN. The group is concerned about the PUD’s proposal to construct the on-land portion of the system at Keystone Spit, which could impact a “relatively rare native plant community,” WEAN reported in a press release.

In addition, PC Landing Corp. filed a motion to intervene and protest the project. The company, together with Japanese affiliates, owns the Pacific Crossing fiber-optic submarine cable system. The company characterizes the 13,076 miles of cable as “a major, high-capacity international telecommunications link between the United States and Japan.”

The problem is that the proposed locations for the turbines would put them at 100 and 150 meters, respectively, from the cable.

“Placement of an experimental turbine project within 100 meters of a major, operational submarine cable system would be nonsensical and contrary to the public and security interests of the United States,” the motion states.

But Craig Collar, senior manager of energy resource development for the Snohomish County PUD, said the concerns seem to be based on misunderstandings. In WEAN’s case, he said the only upland project is the construction of a garage that will become the property of a homeowner once the project is complete. Island County is responsible for the building permit.

In addition, Collar said PC Landing Corp. has a six-inch wide lease from the state for the cable, but company officials seem to think they control a much larger swath of the seabed.

“What we are proposing doesn’t pose a problem or we wouldn’t have proposed it,” he said.

PC Landing Corp., WEAN and other proposed intervenors want the PUD to go through a full Environmental Impact Statement process.

Marianne Edain of WEAN argued that the PUD’s proposal is deeply flawed and shows that attention to detail is lacking.

“Unfortunately, such slapdash work does a disservice to the potential for tidal power,” she wrote. “The underlying questions will likely never be addressed because of the failings of this particular proposal.”

The turbines are the centerpiece of a project to study the viability of using tidal currents to generate electricity. The turbines will produce 300 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power 250 homes, but they will only be in place for three to five years.


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