Washington State Tidal Power Project Nears Green Light

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of EarthFix/KUOW. Author credit goes to Ashley Ahearn.

Snohomish County Public Utility District wants to put two turbines 150 feet below the waves near Whidbey Island. The pilot project would generate enough power for about 20 homes annually.

The new report from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says that the project will not harm the environment.

The 2 350-ton turbines could be installed in 2014 if they receive final approval. This barge could be used to do the job. (image via EarthFix)

The 2 350-ton turbines could be installed in 2014 if they receive final approval. This barge could be used to do the job. (image via EarthFix)

From the report:

“Licensing the project, with appropriate environmental protective measures, would not constitute a major federal action that would significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”

But it will be hard to assess some of the potential effects until the turbines go in.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says construction and operation of the project “may adversely affect marine mammals”.

The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale is known to travel the waters of Admiralty Inlet, where the two turbines would be sited, though the whales spend the majority of their time within the top 30 meters of water and the turbines would be placed at 55-meter depth.

A report from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory modeled the potential outcomes of an orca coming into contact with the turbines and found that an adult male “would not be likely to experience significant tissue damage from impact by an OpenHydro tidal turbine blade”. The turbines are quieter than a passing ferry or cargo ship, but will add some noise to the underwater environment.

Snohomish PUD says it will install a monitoring system for marine mammals that may get near the turbines but that it will be difficult to shut down the turbines once they’re in action.

Pacific Crossing, a company that owns two underwater fiberoptic cables near the turbines, worriesthat the project could damage their cables and plans to challenge the report’s findings.

The public has until mid-February to comment on the report and then a final Environmental Assessment will be submitted. Snohomish PUD could be given the go-ahead for the project this spring.

A Vancouver company has applied for a permit to look into putting three tidal turbines around southern Vancouver Island.

Check out EarthFix’s coverage of the pilot project in Admiralty Inlet, including a video.

EarthFix is an innovative public media partnership of Pacific Northwest stations, creating media across multiple platforms, helping citizens examine environmental issues unfolding in their own backyards and to explore how local actions intersect with national issues.

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