Tidal turbines still working through issues near bay

<p>Artwork illustrating four rotor TidalStream SST tidal turbine units in a typical application. The PUD is still deliberating on what turbines to use near the mouth of Willapa Bay.</p>

TOKELAND — Coordinators are currently trying to secure about $2 million for phase two of a tidal energy pilot project proposed for the mouth of Willapa Bay. A joint project between Pacific County and Grays Harbor PUDs, phase two would include environmental and engineering studies as well as gathering opinions from local community members and stakeholders. 

According to Doug Miller, general manager of Pacific County PUD No. 2, they have been looking for funding for the last three years and were earmarked in the federal budget last year but were dropped at the last minute. Miller hopes that congress will have a budget ready by August and says they will know then whether funds have been secured or where to go from there. He says at this point in the project, “The funding kind of sets the timeline,” and they can’t really move forward until that happens. 

Plans for the pilot project would include installing one or more tidal energy devices at the mouth of Willapa Bay near Tokeland and Washaway Beach. While a few designs exist, one of the energy devices under consideration looks much like a wind turbine installed underwater that sends energy through cables running along the mud to a substation on shore. According to a May 6 article in The Daily News, the project would generate about 250 kilowatts, or enough energy to power about six homes. Installing more turbines could mean generating about 400 megawatts, or powering thousands of homes, but it is unclear whether this kind of expansion would be possible due to funding and other factors. As a pilot project, only a few devices would be installed in the beginning to gauge success and as Miller explains, “to get the output you’d put a bunch of them in a row.”

This local push towards renewable energy sources is spurred in part by Initiative-937, the Energy Independence Act, which requires electric utilities serving 25,000 or more people to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from new renewable resources by 2020. While Grays Harbor and Pacific County PUDs don’t serve this many customers and thus do not have to comply with the act, Miller says they are trying to move towards renewable energy resources anyway to prepare for the future if thresholds are lowered or regulations increased. Another reason is to boost its green portfolio with energy provided locally. 

The two PUDs are also working with the Mason County PUD No. 3 and the Clallam County PUD on the Radar Ridge Wind Project to develop renewable wind resources. But as Miller puts it, “Wind doesn’t blow all the time where as you know, the tides will always come in and go out.” In short, tidal energy is more predictable than wind, although both are potentially viable in this area. 

An environmental impact statement is currently being put together for the Radar Wind Project to determine the impact wind turbines in the area would have on the endangered Marbled Murrelet species. Miller says the statement should be finished by the end of this year or early next. 

According to Miller, starting a tidal energy project here will not only increase the use of renewable energy but will also help the county’s struggling economy by creating new jobs. “Anything we can build out here will help out the local economy,” he says.

Resistance to tidal and wave energies on the Washington and Oregon coasts has already been documented, one of the most recent cases being in a May 26 article in the South Beach Bulletin. In the article, Ray Toste, president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association, and Doug Fricke, president of the Washington Trollers Association, both expressed concern that marine based energy projects could negatively impact fish, crab and oyster grounds. 

It is unclear what effects underwater electrical devices in Willapa Bay could have on animal behavior or environment or whether some areas would become non-navigable to protect the devices.  According to Miller, these are just some of the concerns that will be addressed if funding is secured for phase two of the project. He said that the pilot project would probably not create non-navigable areas since there would only be a few devices, but that if the project grew, they might need to reevaluate the situation. 

Phase three of the project would require about $2 to $5 million more and would mean partnering with developers of the turbine devices. 

“There’s no guarantee,” Miller says about the project, “we have to go through the steps.” 

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