Turbines proposed at Pass

Some day people enjoying the famously stunning view from Deception Pass Bridge might look down and see a hydroelectic power generating plant in the water below.

An application for a preliminary permit for such a plant has been submitted to federal authorities by a firm called the Washington Tidal Energy Company.

If approved, the proposal would see the installation of 100 to 300 “in-stream conversion devices” consisting of rotating propeller blades beneath the waters between Whidbey Island and Fildalgo Island.

The project would supply an estimated 8.76 gigawatt-hours per unit each year that would potentially be sold to Puget Sound Energy. The company estimates that this could be enough for the needs of the entire population of Whidbey Island.

Hydroelectric power is created when natural currents move propeller blades underwater which is then converted into electricity in a turbine generator.

Unlike fossil fuel power plants hydroelectric plants give off few hazardous emissions.

The application process is only beginning.

“A preliminary permit, if issued, does not authorize construction,” said Charles Cooper of TRC Environmental, a consulting company for WTEC. Several steps would remain before the construction phase could begin.

The race to be “the first” to apply is strictly proprietary.

“This is the only way for us (Washington Tidal Energy Company) to get the right to go forward and explore interest,” said Cooper. “To do it they have to be first.”

Cooper indicated that it would take at least three years to study environmental impacts, commercial needs and productivity of the currents before construction could begin. Deception Pass is well known for the strong and sometimes dangerous currents that run through it.

“I’m sure this project will generate a lot of interest,” said Cooper.

Local reactions vary to a plan that few people at this point have heard about.

Island County Commissioner Bill Byrd was unaware of the application when asked for comment. “However, energy is needed,” said Byrd after being informed of the proposal.

The news spread quickly to the other Washington.

“As one of the most visited state parks in the nation, I would have major issues with any project that would harm the environment or the tourism and recreational opportunities that Deception Pass provides,” Congressman Rick Larsen said in an e-mail from Washington, D.C.

Deception Pass State Park’s manager was surprised by the proposal.

“For us it’s a double-sided reaction,” said Jack Hartt, manager of Deception Pass State Park, on Friday. “It’s blind-sided us.”

“We certainly support alternative energy but Deception Pass is so rich with wildlife and salmon,” Hart said. “We have a number of concerns.”

The environmental concerns will be addressed in the filing of a motion to intervene against the project, according to Hartt.

“It’s not far enough along for there to be devices put into Deception Pass tomorrow,” said Cooper. The next step in the process will be the start of impact studies and responding to the challenges from critics.

The project has generated some humor if nothing else at this point. “There’s already a joke going around,” said Hartt, “that fishermen will be happy about the project because their fish will be pre-filleted when caught.”

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