Editorial: Keeping up with tidal energy

Along the Columbia River Gorge in the southern part of Washington and along the ridges of Ellensburg in Central Washington one can witness the growth of the wind power industry as dozens of huge turbines are being erected to provide renewable energy and meet government mandates.

What is happening is remarkable, but not quite so interesting as what is occurring just off the shores of Whidbey Island in Admiralty Inlet. The body of water traversed by the ferry Chetzemoka is seen as a prime site for tidal energy, and Snohomish County PUD is well on it was to installing its first turbine, perhaps in 2013. The U.S. Navy is undertaking it own study of tidal power and could also end up with a working model in this area.

A website called Puget Sound Tidal Energy states that in Great Britain plans for full scale development of tidal turbines are in the permitting process, and describes the proposals as “creating underwater wind farms with rotors ranging from 5 to 20 meters in diameter.”

The website appears informational rather than oppositional, but it does point out some concerns. How would turbines in Admiralty Inlet affect the recovery effort of Puget Sound chinook salmon, Hood Canal chum salmon and Southern Resident orca whales, and what about their impact on bottom fish? The possibility is even raised that the turbines could affect sediment deposition by slowing the currents through the projected areas.

Tidal energy appears on the face of it to be great thing, since the turbine blades are invisible to the public and the energy will be available as long as the tides come and go. But the questions already raised are good ones and must be answered before anything like full scale development in Admiralty Inlet is allowed.

Fortunately, some of these questions will be addressed and much more information about underwater power provided next Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House off Highway 525 just north of Freeland. Dr. Brian Polagye, a recognized expert in the field, will talk about the state of the tidal power industry and how it might change how we all live on Whidbey Island. Islanders have to stay ahead of this subject and this is a good way to start. Call 360-331-2163 if you need help finding the meeting place.

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