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FERC issues 10-year pilot license to Snohomish PUD for tidal energy project

From the March 21, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published March 21, 2014

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a 10-year pilot license to the Snohomish County, Wash., Public Utility District for its proposed Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Project to be located in the Puget Sound. The 600-kilowatt  experimental project is designed to determine whether commercial development of the tidal energy resources of Puget Sound is commercially viable. The March 20 order authorizes Snohomish to study, monitor, and evaluate the environmental, economic, and cultural effects of hydrokinetic energy.

"Anyone who has spent time on the waters of Puget Sound understands the power inherent in the tides," said Snohomish PUD General Manager Steve Klein. "In granting this license, the FERC acknowledges the vigilant efforts of the PUD and its partners to test the viability of a new reliable source of clean energy while at the same time ensuring the protection of the environment and existing uses."

The project, which will be located in Admiralty Inlet, west of Whidbey Island, Wash., will be the first grid-connected array of large-scale tidal energy turbines in the world, Snohomish PUD said. It will involve the installation, operation and evaluation of two turbines at a depth of about 200 feet. The utility plans to move forward on contractual agreements, construction and deployment over the next two years. The turbines would be installed for a period of three to five years, the PUD said.

"The Admiralty Inlet Project is an innovative attempt to harness previously untapped energy resources," acting FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur said. "I look forward to the results of the experimental project and congratulate Snohomish for undertaking it." Other commissioners also applauded Snohomish for tackling the demonstration project.

In issuing the license, FERC said it carefully considered the effect the Admiralty Inlet Project would have on sections of an under-sea fiber optic communication cable between the United States and Japan. FERC concluded that, with appropriate safety measures, the Admiralty Inlet Project would not pose a risk to the cable.

The pilot license contains measures to protect fish, wildlife, cultural and aesthetic resources, navigation and existing infrastructure. The license also contains several monitoring and adaptive management requirements to adequately protect against any adverse impacts from the project. LaFleur said the protections are well thought out.

During its public process, the utility engaged numerous stakeholders, including local, state and federal agencies, tribal groups, business organizations and residents.

The proposed tidal turbines are manufactured by OpenHydro of Dublin, Ireland, the PUD said. Each turbine measures 6 meters in diameter, with a 414-ton total weight. The foundation is secured by gravity only (no piling or pinning needed). The turbines have only one moving part and require no lubricating oils or greases. Subsea cables will connect to shore on PUD-leased land south of the Coupeville Ferry Terminal, where it will connect to the electrical grid.

Admiralty Inlet "offers attractive features, including swift currents, good access, a rocky seabed floor with little sediment and vegetation, and viable grid connections," the PUD said March 20. "The inlet is a very large body of water, which makes the footprint of the pilot plant small by comparison and helps to minimize any impacts."

The PUD said it has worked with many technical partners on project studies covering areas such as acoustics, underwater topography (bathymetry), marine life, underwater monitoring, geotechnical data and water quality. Partners have included the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Sound & Sea Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The pilot project has been supported with grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, Bonneville Power Administration and federal appropriations. OpenHydro projects in other parts of the world have shown no impact on marine life, the PUD said. Scotland’s Orkney Islands (another OpenHydro site) have an ecologically diverse and productive marine ecosystem that is home to numerous fish species, shellfish, dolphins, seals, porpoises, whales and migrating turtles. "Operations at the site have been continuously videotaped, and no marine life incidents have been recorded," the PUD said. "OpenHydro’s experience has been that fish and marine mammals do not interact with the tidal device."


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