Researchers in Washington state studying effect of ocean turbines on marine life in advance of proposed US$25M tidal energy pilot project that would install two large turbines 200-ft. deep in Admiralty Inlet by late summer 2013

LOS ANGELES , August 10, 2011 () – In advance of a proposed US$25-million tidal energy pilot project in Washington state, researchers are studying the effect of the turbines on marine life, reported The Miami Herald on Aug. 9.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District in Washington proposes installing two large hydro turbines, weighing 350 pounds each, 200 feet deep in Admiralty Inlet near Puget Sound by late summer 2013.

Later this month, the publicly-owned utility, which is the state’s second largest, plans to formally apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a license for the project, the Herald reported.

At the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s marine science lab in Sequim Bay, Washington, research is under way to see how salmon and other marine life respond to the simulated sound of the turbines.

Washington state is heavily involved in high-tech research into the field known as hydrokinetics, which studies the force of powerful oceans tides and waves, reported the Herald.

However, a commercial tidal energy plant of the type currently being studied is “probably years away,” said Craig Collar, senior manager of energy resource development at the Snohomish County utility.

The utility expects to spend $10 million to $12 million on the project, with the U.S. Dept. of Energy supplying the remainder, said Collar.

The experiment at Sequim is backed by Congress, partially with $1.75 million earmarked in a 2010 energy appropriations bill, the Herald reported.

Hydro turbine designs have proliferated, numbering about 60-70 so far, and the persistent problem has been routine breakage when exposed to strong ocean currents, said Collar, noting that the early technology -- as it was for wind energy -- is going to be somewhat unreliable, expensive and difficult to permit.

In preparation for the hydro turbines, remotely operated vehicles have been investigating the rocky ocean bottom at Admiralty Inlet. Robots are used in place of humans, said James Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s applied physics lab, reported the Herald.

Projects researching tidal power technology are under way in a few states, including New York, Maine and Alaska. One considered a few years ago by Tacoma Power in Washington was later put on hold.

The impact if tidal power is proven feasible is considerable as 52% of the U.S. population lives near a coastline and 28 coastal states consumer 78% of the nation’s electricity, the Herald reported.

The primary source of this article is The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, on Aug. 9, 2011.

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