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PUD begins hunt for tidal power

The PUD has gained the rights to seven of the best locations in the area to generate clean electricity for thousands of homes.

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By Lukas Velush / Herald Writer
Snohomish County PUD is launching a handful of studies to find out if it's possible to use the tidal currents that rip through Puget Sound and other state waters to generate electricity for thousands of homes.
The utility is moving fast, starting six different studies just weeks after locking up the rights to seven of the best tidal power locations in the state, including Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet.
"Tidal energy is a clean, predictable, emission-free power source that's right in our back yard," said PUD General Manager Steve Klein. "As our region grows, we're interested in identifying renewable resources to help meet increased needs."
The utility announced Wednesday that it has received a $220,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, money that will help pay the $340,000 cost of the studies.
"We're excited about the PUD's exploration of tidal power as a local source energy with no associated fuel costs or emissions," said Steve Wright, administrator for Bonneville, which is the regional energy wholesaler that supplies the PUD with most of its electricity.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in February and March granted the PUD three years to study the feasibility of tidal energy at seven locations in Puget Sound.
They are Admiralty Inlet, the main entrance into south Puget Sound, Deception Pass at the north end of Whidbey Island, Spieden and San Juan channels in the San Juan Islands, Guemes Channel near Anacortes, Agate Passage near Bainbridge Island and Rich Passage near Bremerton.
The utility's goal is to figure out if tidal power is feasible here, said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the utility district.
Most of the work on the studies is scheduled to take place this summer.
Here's what they will try to accomplish:
* Find all tidal current studies that already have been done at the seven locations. Use that information to refine the potential of each site.
* Assess what tidal turbines are available and see which designs might be the best fit for Puget Sound.
* Measure each location's "acoustic Doppler profile." That means measure the velocity and direction of tidal currents at each site. Track how the currents change at different locations and how tidal flows change over time.
* Do computer modeling that simulates what the tidal currents are like.
* Determine how to connect the electricity to the power grid that delivers electricity to homes.
* Identify what the environmental and regulatory issues will be. Start communications with stakeholders including state and local governments and agencies, tribes and environmentalists. And use those communications to identify what other research needs to be done.
The PUD estimates it could install 1,662 turbines at the seven locations, according to the utility's filings with the federal government.
Together, the turbines would generate about 100 megawatts of electricity on average, enough for 60,000 homes - about every house and apartment in Mukilteo, Everett and Marysville.
The utility's full scale effort to get into tidal power has put it into a position to become a national leader in an industry that is just now getting its feet wet.
"There is a buzz," said Jessica Wilcox, the PUD's government relations and communications director. "There have been some hearings (about tidal power) now, especially because of the climate change debate. It has started to become very popular and very visual."
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., on Tuesday introduced legislation that would provide a huge infusion of cash - $20 million per year for 10 years - for research and development of ocean-based electricity generation.
Wilcox said the PUD is well poised to take advantage of those dollars.
The legislation also provides tax breaks and other benefits to tidal power and other ocean-generated electricity.
Locations such as Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass have been selected as the most likely locations because the tides flow for longer and faster there, usually because the tide is restricted in some way.

How it works

Tidal power generates electricity by harnessing the ebb and flow of tides with windmill-like turbines.

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