Tidal turbine study OK’d

PUD eyes Deception Pass for power

It may be fitting if the first underwater windmills in the state sprout just up the road from the old Dutch town of Oak Harbor.

Snohomish County PUD learned Thursday that it has permission to begin studying the placement of four tidal turbines at Deception Pass.

Federal energy regulators denied a competing permit application from Washington Tidal Energy, “a mysterious corporation” with an unclear background, according to Steve Erickson of Whidbey Environmental Action Network or WEAN.

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also granted preliminary permits allowing Snohomish County PUD to study six other sites for tidal turbines. They are Spieden and San Juan channels in the San Juan Islands, Guemes Channel near Anacortes, Agate Passage near Bainbridge Island and Rich Passage near Bremerton.

The PUD also has applied for a feasibility study permit of Admiralty Inlet.

Officials at the PUD say tidal energy could be a valuable source of clean energy that is more reliable than wind energy.

“Tidal power could be very important for a quickly growing region with very, very limited options,” said Steve Klein, general manager of the Snohomish County PUD.

PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos said the proposed turbines at Deception Pass would be completely submerged and not visible to onlookers at the scenic vista.

“It would be our intent to have a minimal impact on the aesthetics of the water,” he said. “If you look out at the water, you won’t see much at all.”

Four turbines approximately 60 feet in diameter would produce three megawatts of power, which would provide enough to power 1,800 homes.

Neroutsos said the PUD will be on the cutting edge of the new technology. Currently, only one operating tidal power program exists in the U.S. It’s a small pilot project at the East River in New York. But many other countries are operating or developing tidal energy programs, including Canada, France, China and Australia.

During the three-year feasibility study, the PUD will look at a range of issues, including potential impacts on marine life, shipping and recreation. It will also consider the tidal flow, the sea floor, economics and the type of turbines.

The turbines may look much like windmills or jet engines, according to conceptual plans. They are basically underwater windmills, Neroutsos said, that are powered by tides. Tidal power is also called lunar energy since tides are caused, in part, by the gravitational pull of the moon.

Initiative 937, passed by voters last year, requires public power utilities to come up with more clean, alternative energy sources over the next 15 years. The PUD proposes that hundreds of turbines in Puget Sound could eventually generate enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.

WEAN and the Island County commissioners filed separate motions to intervene in the PUD’s application for Deception Pass. While the county intervened to be party in the proceedings, WEAN wants the process to halt because of concerns.

“In some locations it might be appropriate, but I suspect Deception Pass is not one of those places,” said Steve Erickson of WEAN.

Erickson pointed out that the swirling waters of Deception Pass are a passageway for whales and endangered runs of salmon, as well as one of the most popular tourist spots in the state.

“Are we going to have any place left that’s not developed or industrialized?” Erickson asked.