Snohomish County PUD closer to tide power

EVERETT – Snohomish County PUD’s venture into generating electricity using underwater tidal turbines is cranking to life.

Researchers who have been sifting through dusty historical files for information on underwater currents in Puget Sound are now ready to start taking measurements of their own.

“We’ll be getting into the water at the end of the month to do some acoustic Doppler current profiling,” said Craig Collar, senior manager of energy resources development at the PUD. He spoke at a meeting the utility held Monday to update the public on its burgeoning tidal energy program.

Their tidal current measurements will be loaded into a modeling program that the utility will use to pick the best places to potentially locate thousands of tidal turbines, said Phil Malte, a University of Washington College of Engineering professor hired by the PUD to develop models of currents in Puget Sound.

Earlier this year the PUD was granted federal permits to spend three years studying tidal power at seven locations in Puget Sound, including at Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass.

In filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the utility initially estimated it could install 1,662 turbines.

Together they could generate enough electricity for 60,000 homes – about every house and apartment in Mukilteo, Everett and Marysville.

A review of available tidal current information shows the seven sites may perform better than originally thought, especially at Admiralty Inlet, Collar said.

“At this point they all look very viable,” he said. “It looks very positive.”

Actual tidal current measurements will be taken at Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass this summer, with tests to follow later at the other locations, Collar said.

The modeling could also show whether the turbines could affect tidal currents in Puget Sound, slowing them. Some observers worry that losing such “kinetic energy” could harm places such as Hood Canal, where water circulation already is poor.

Others believe turbines won’t mix well with endangered salmon and the marine animals and fishermen that depend on them.

Tribal and commercial fishing operations are in decline and cannot afford to have salmon runs lose any more ground, said Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip. He attended the PUD’s meeting on Monday.

“(Our) concerns are over fishing and shellfish,” he said. “Nets and crab pots will not mix with these underwater turbines.”

He said orca whales also depend on viable salmon runs.

The utility plans an extensive review of the potential environmental impacts of tidal power, said Steve Klein, the utility’s general manager.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., also promised to make sure the environmental impacts of tidal power are properly reviewed.

He introduced a bill earlier this year to promote the development of tidal and wave energy. His bill would make low-interest loans available for developing ocean-based renewable energy technology and would give tax credits to utilities that buy or develop the electricity. He also proposes to spend $50 million per year on ocean-energy research for 10 years.

State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, has proposed legislation that would give tidal energy the same tax exemptions that wind and solar energy currently enjoy.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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