Snohomish County utility awaits approval for tidal turbine


In this June 13, 2011 file photo, the Energy Tide 2, the largest tidal energy turbine ever deployed in the U.S., appears on a barge in Portland, Maine. Scientists at the University of Washington have determined that Admiralty Inlet, in Puget Sound, is an excellent place to test tidal turbines. (AP Photo/File)
In this June 13, 2011 file photo, the Energy Tide 2, the largest tidal energy turbine ever deployed in the U.S., appears on a barge in Portland, Maine. Scientists at the University of Washington have determined that Admiralty Inlet, in Puget Sound, is an excellent place to test tidal turbines. (AP Photo/File)

BY Tim Haeck  on January 15, 2014


A public electric utility in Everett could be among the first in the nation to generate power from the tides.

Scientists at the University of Washington have determined that Admiralty Inlet, in Puget Sound, is an excellent place to test tidal turbines.

“Admiralty Inlet stacks up pretty well, worldwide, in terms of its actual tidal energy resource,” said Craig Collar, assistant general manager at Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1. Currents have been clocked at 6-7 knots, he said.

The PUD is pledged to maintain carbon-free power sources. It has wind power and is exploring geo-thermal energy, as well.

“We’re highly dependent on the Bonneville Power Administration,” said Collar. “That’s a lot of eggs in one basket and it only makes sense to diversify.”

The advantage of tidal power: tides are reliable and predictable.

The disadvantage is you have to pick the right spot.

The utility wants to place two turbines, each about 20-feet in diameter, on the bottom of Admiralty Inlet, 200 feet below the surface. The more than $20 million pilot project, funded in half by the U.S. Energy Department, is at least six years in development. It’s been delayed, in part, by a challenge from a California company that owns two trans-ocean fiber optic telecommunications cables.

“The turbines, as currently proposed, are dangerously close to our cable,” said Kurt Johnson, chief financial officer of Pacific Crossing. He’s worried that turbine deployment and maintenance could damage the cables.

“Pacific Crossing is not against tidal energy, or even this specific project. All we’re really asking is that the PUD locate the turbines a safe distance from our cable.”

“In fact, we have done that,” said Collar. “This project is now several hundred feet away from their cable, so the crux of the matter is our project simply doesn’t represent any risk whatsoever to their cable.”

Collar said an environmental review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), draws the same conclusion.

“The facts are they’ve got a six-inch wide lease, we’re several hundred feet away, we have a deployment accuracy of less than ten feet, we won’t use any anchors at all in the deployment operation or maintenance of these devices,” said Collar.

Tribal and environmental groups have also challenged the project out of concern for fish and orcas.

“But the truth is these turbines rotate quite slowly, more the speed that we’d visualize for a turnstile, taking several seconds just to make a single revolution,” Collar explained.

The utility is awaiting approval of a license from FERC and some state and local permits. The soonest the turbines could be deployed would be 2015.

It’s not known if tidal power will prove effective around here.

The Snohomish County PUD No.1 will hook up the turbines to the power grid but Collar said this pilot project is more about collecting data than generating electricity. If approved, the turbines will operate for three-to-five years and be removed.

Tribes, cable groups protest plan for tidal-power project

The tribes are concerned the turbines will interfere with fishing; cable interests say lines in the area could be damaged.

By Bill Sheets, Herald Writer

EVERETT — While a federal study recently gave an environmental OK to the Snohomish County Public Utility District’s plan to try out two tidal power turbines, some don’t agree with the conclusion.

Three Indian tribes, a cable company and a cable trade group all sent letters last week to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opposing the Admiralty Inlet project as it’s proposed.

The tribes, including the Tulalips, say the turbines could interfere with fishing. The cable interests believe the project could damage trans-Pacific cables that run through the inlet.

The letters were sent to meet Thursday’s deadline for commenting on the federal environmental study.

The tribes and others expressed concern earlier in the process as well, but the 215-page draft report concluded that the turbines pose no threat to the cables, wildlife habitat or fishing.

Officials with the PUD have seen the latest responses, said Jeff Kallstrom, an attorney for the utility.

“We’re still looking them over in detail. I don’t think anything that’s said is something that hasn’t been said before,” he said.

A final environmental study could be written this spring or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could simply reference the comments in either issuing or denying a license for the $20 million project, Kallstrom said. Either way, he expects a decision this summer, he said.

The first draft of the study concluded the turbines would not interfere with tribal fishing in part because “the size of the project would be very small relative to the fishing area. There is no current use of the project site as a commercial salmon fishery.”

The Tulalip Tribes, the Suquamish Tribe and the Point No Point Treaty Council, representing the Port Gamble and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes, each sent letters disputing the report’s conclusions.

“Development of this project would force the state and tribe to close this area for all types of fishing due to the safety hazards of fishing gear or anchor lines getting caught in the turbines,” wrote Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes, in a 35-page letter to the federal agency.

In the PUD’s project, the turbines would be placed in a flat area 200 feet underwater. Each circular turbine resembles a giant fan, sitting about 65 feet high on a triangular platform with dimensions of about 100 feet by 85 feet. The turbines are made by OpenHydro of Ireland.

The turbines would be placed about 575 and 770 feet from fiber-optic cables owned by Pacific Crossing of Danville, Calif. The cables extend a total of more than 13,000 miles in a loop from Harbour Pointe in Mukilteo to Ajigaura and Shima, Japan, and Grover Beach, Calif.

The company and the North American Submarine Cable Association, based in Morristown, N.J., both wrote to dispute the study’s findings.

The proposed distances from the turbines to the cables “significantly depart from industry standards,” said Robert Wargo, president of the cable association, in his letter to the federal agency.

Kurt Johnson, chief financial officer for Pacific Crossing, has said the company is concerned that the cables could be damaged by the placement of the 350-ton turbines or by anchors from boats in the area, he said.

Officials with the PUD earlier submitted to the federal agency a list of precautions that crews would take when operating near the turbines. The most important of these is that boats would stay running when in the area to eliminate the need for dropping an anchor, according to Craig Collar, senior manager for energy resource development for the PUD.

For placing the turbines, OpenHydro officials have told those at the PUD they can get them within 10 feet of their target locations, Collar said.

At peak output, the turbines are expected to generate 600 kilowatts between them, enough to power 450 homes, PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos said. Most of the time the output will be less, officials said. They emphasized that this would be only a demonstration project intended to determine whether more turbines could be effective in the future.

The project is expected to cost $20 million to $25 million. The PUD has received nearly half that amount in a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.