A multi-million-dollar tidal energy project in Admiralty Inlet,
north of the Kitsap Peninsula, has been approved by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission.
Tidal turbines for Admiralty Inlet
are to be provided by OpenHydro.
Graphic courtesy of OpenHydro
The Snohomish County Public Utility District, which was granted
a license for the double-tidal-turbine pilot project, says it will
be the first “grid-connected array of large-scale tidal energy
turbines in the world.” The twin turbines are designed to produce
600 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power several hundred
“Anyone who has spent time on the waters of Puget Sound
understands the power inherent in the tides,” PUD General Manager
Steve Klein said in a news
release. “In granting this license, the FERC acknowledges the
vigilant efforts of the PUD and its partners to test the viability
of a new reliable source of clean energy while at the same time
ensuring the protection of the environment and existing uses.”
The federal commission acknowledged concerns for fish and
wildlife brought forth by area tribes, whale-watch operators and
environmental groups. But the pilot project has precautionary
measures built in, according to the commission’s
order (PDF 503 kb) issued yesterday:
“For these new technologies, where the environmental effects are
not well understood, the risks of adverse environmental impacts can
be minimized through monitoring and safeguard plans that ensure the
protection of the public and the environment.
“The goal of the pilot project approach is to allow developers
to test new hydrokinetic technologies, determine appropriate sites
for these technologies, and study a technology’s environmental and
other effects without compromising the commission’s oversight of a
project or limiting agency and stakeholder input…
“A pilot project should be: (1) small; (2) short term; (3)
located in non-sensitive areas based on the commission’s review of
the record; (4) removable and able to be shut down on short notice;
(5) removed, with the site restored, before the end of the license
term (unless a new license is granted); and (6) initiated by a
draft application in a form sufficient to support environmental
Among tribes that fish in the area, the Suquamish Tribe raised
concerns about the likelihood of underwater turbines violating
tribal treaty rights to fish. The turbines have the potential for
killing or injuring fish, according to the tribes, and they could
become a point of entanglement for fishing nets and anchor
Tidal turbine location in Admiralty
“Though we respect the tribes’ perspective and concerns, we
disagree that licensing this project will adversely affect their
treaty rights,” the commission stated in its order. The license
contains no restrictions on fishing, and it requires measures to
protect the fish.
Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said tribal officials
have not had time to review the license conditions in detail but
will do so over the coming days. He said he would consult with
legal and technical advisers before laying out possible actions for
consideration by the tribal council.
Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch
Association and a board member for Orca Conservancy, said he was
disappointed that more people have not recognized the problems that
can be created by these turbines — especially in Admiralty Inlet, a
primary route for killer whales and many other species.
The turbines will create unusually loud and potentially painful
underwater noise, Harris said. This installation is being developed
at a time when researchers are coming to understand that noise can
disrupt the behavior of killer whales and other marine mammals.
The turbines themselves have open blades that can injure any
curious animal getting too close, he noted. And if the turbines
become a serious threat, someone must swim down and mechanically
stop the blades from turning, something that could take four
“I’m not against green energy,” Harris said when I talked to him
this morning. “But let’s not put blinders on. I would like to see
these turbines located in another spot. Why not Deception
Harris said it is critical for people to pay close attention to
the pilot project if it goes forward. Everyone should be prepared
to stop the experiment if it proves costly to sea life.
The order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission maintains
that conditions of approval will protect killer whales and other
“The Near Turbine Monitoring and Mitigation Plan requires
detection of fish and should provide observation of nearby killer
whales. Those observations combined with the hydrophone monitoring
required under the Marine Mammal Protection and Mitigation Plan
will allow detection and observation of killer whales if they come
near the turbines.
“The adaptive management provisions of the Marine Mammal
Protection and Mitigation Plan will also allow adjustments to
project operation if potential harm to killer whales is detected
or, in the very unlikely event, a whale is injured….
“This license also contains noise-related requirements that will
ensure the project does not have detrimental effects on killer
whale behavior. The Acoustic Monitoring and Mitigation Plan of this
license requires that if the sound level from turbine operation
exceeds 120 dB at a distance greater than 750 meters from the
turbine … the licensee shall engage the turbine brake until
modifications to turbine operations or configuration can be made to
reduce the sound level.”
According to several Internet sources, 120 dB is what someone
might hear standing near a chainsaw or jack hammer. That level is
considered close to the human threshold for pain.
In the Admiralty Inlet area, at least 13 local species are
listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species
- One plant: golden paintbrush, threatened
- One bird: marbled murrelet, threatened
- Two marine mammals: Southern Resident killer whales,
endangered, and North Pacific humpback whale, endangered
- Nine fish: Puget Sound Chinook salmon, threatened; Hood Canal
summer chum, threatened; Puget Sound steelhead, threatened; bull
trout, threatened; green sturgeon, threatened; bocaccio rockfish,
endangered; canary rockfish, threatened; yelloweye rockfish,
threatened; and Pacific eulachon, threatened.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries
Service have concluded that none of the species would be in
jeopardy of extinction because of the pilot project.
Experts have concluded that marine mammals, including killer
whales, could be subjected to Level B harassment (behavioral
shifts) as a result of noise from the turbines. That would be in
violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act without incidental
take authorization. That means the Snohomish PUD must undergo
consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service and
possibly change its plans before moving forward.
The PUD chose Admiralty Inlet for its swift currents, easy
access and rocky seabed with little sediment or vegetation. A
cable-control building for connecting to the power grid will be
located on Whidbey Island near Fort Casey State Park. The turbines
will be located in about 150 feet of water about a half-mile from
The turbines are manufactured by OpenHydro of Dublin, Ireland.
Each turbine measures about 18 feet in diameter, with a 414-ton
According to the PUD, these turbines have been used in
ecologically sensitive areas in other parts of the world. One
location is Scotland’s Orkney Islands, which features a diverse and
productive ecosystem that is home to numerous species of fish,
dolphins, seals, porpoises, whales and migrating turtles.
The pilot project has been supported with about $13 million in
grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and Bonneville Power
Administration along with federal appropriations.
Partners in various aspects of the project include the
University of Washington, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
Sound & Sea Technology and the National Renewable Energy
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