Snohomish PUD tidal project gets $10 million federal grant

EVERETT — Tidal power here is suddenly riding a wave of cash.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District was told Thursday it’s receiving $10 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for its pilot tidal energy project in Admiralty Inlet. The PUD will match the grant with $10.1 million of its own.

Only a handful of tidal power projects are operating worldwide, PUD officials said.

“We’re excited to be leading the way in the research of this innovative energy source — another tool to help us and the nation combat climate change and attain energy independence,” PUD general manager Steven Klein said in a press release.

The PUD applied for the grant in a competitive process, spokesman Neil Neroutsos said. Two other utilities, one in Maine and one in New Jersey, received grant money along with the PUD.

The PUD grant will cover two large tidal turbines. The utility hopes to get the turbines placed on the floor of Admiralty Inlet and have them up and running by 2012, Neroutsos said. The two turbines are expected to generate 1 megawatt of power during peak times and an average 100 kilowatts, enough to power nearly 700 homes.

In the long term, the PUD also is looking at Deception Pass, at the north end of Whidbey Island, as a candidate for tidal power, but will wait to see how the Admiralty Inlet project goes first, Neroutsos said.

Currents in the inlet, the passage between Whidbey Island and the northern Olympic Peninsula, were tested last year at 7 knots per hour, compared to the 4 to 6 knots originally estimated.

The PUD is researching conditions in the inlet jointly with the University of Washington. The utility received $2.1 million in federal grants to pay for the research. They’re working with the UW’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which has received federal grant money of its own to do research on tidal projects.

The PUD previously spent more than $1 million on research, with some of that money coming from a grant.

It still will likely need some more research money, Neroutsos said. More information on currents, water quality, noise, wildlife habitat and surface conditions will be needed. Officials also need data collected now to compare with conditions after the turbines are in the water.

So far, the bottom of Admiralty Inlet, about 200 feet below the surface, has been found to be level and free of large drop-offs or obstructions. The PUD plans to use 400-ton turbines from OpenHydro, an Irish company that built turbines being used in a pilot project in Scotland.

Each circular turbine resembles a giant fan, sitting about 65 feet on a triangular platform with dimensions of about 100 feet by 85 feet.

The U.S. Navy also is planning a tidal project in Admiralty Inlet. The Navy did not receive funding for its project for 2011 and now is shooting for 2012, spokeswoman Sheila Murray said.

The Ocean Renewable Power Company of Portland, Maine, received the same grant as the PUD: $10 million with a $10.1 million match. Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. of Pennington, N.J., received $2.4 million and put up the same amount of its own.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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