Clean Tech: Admiring Admiralty Inlet

By Published On: March 28, 2014

Killer whales move over. You’re going to have a new neighbor. It’s nowhere near as flashy as your sleek black and white coats. It’s probably closer to rust-colored. And it tunelessly hums to itself while generating 600 kW (kilo-, not killer-watts). Snohomish Public Utility District’s $28 million Admiralty Inlet Pilot Project received a welcome from Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioners March 20. There have been a few wave/tidal energy project ideas tossed around in California, but the going’s been tough. Humans like the concept of free power from the ocean, but so far in this state tidal energy projects remain difficult to site for environmental and access reasons. For instance, Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan for one off the coast of Fort Bragg met its demise when the utility figured out that, oops, there’s a big ocean there and no roads to get heavy equipment in and out of the vicinity. The Snohomish project is in a bit more protected area. It would be in the Puget Sound—somewhat like San Francisco Bay, only with more islands. Tidal currents there exceed three meters/second. Snohomish plans to sink two 20-foot high OpenHydro turbines 58 meters deep and build underwater cables to get the kilowatts from there to the mainland. For the whales, us human landlubbers don’t quite understand your sensitive eardrums, but we’re trying not to drive you crazy with the electricity production version of techno-pop. Snohomish plans to measure “drifting noise” and install hydrophones, although we don’t think you can use them to make long distance calls to your buddies in Alaska. As for your cold-blooded neighbors—bull trout and Chinook salmon—the National Marine Fisheries Service seems to think the sunken power plant will not tickle their gills unpleasantly. And, NMFS doesn’t think it will kill any of your killer friends either. As the area near Seattle experiments with renewables, this project is a way to test how “benign” new power can be, said Kim Moore, Snohomish assistant general manager. It’s cooperating with the University of Washington to monitor environmental impacts. And, it has a $10 million grant from the Department of Energy.

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