Whale of an Idea for Generating More Alternative Energy
Vast amounts of energy are available from falling water, especially from major rivers here in the Pacific Northwest. About the only place in Washington state where water
doesn’t have a vertical fall to generate energy is Puget Sound, an inland waterway stretching a hundred miles down western Washington from Deception Pass to Olympia.
Dams along the Columbia river and its tributaries produce vast amounts of clean energy for the Pacific Northwest. All these dams have to be certified by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to comply with the Clean Water Act, Section 401:
Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), an applicant for a federal license or permit to conduct any activity that may result in a discharge to waters of the United States must provide the federal agency with a Section 401 certification. …
Generally, Section 401 certification has been applied to hydropower projects seeking a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)… (Congressional Research Service pdf source)
The Henry Jackson Hydroelectric Project in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, also has to be re-certified, and after receiving Washington State Dept. of Ecology certification in 2011, has five years to receive a license to operate from FERC. So the state and federal regulatory task is to confirm water quality and marine ecosystems are not being negatively impacted by the continued operation of the Henry Jackson hydroelectric system.
And what this means for Snohomish County ratepayers (i.e. electricity users) is a whole world of hurt. Over a billion dollars will be spent on a wide array of environmental and alternative energy projects, some reasonable (measuring impact on salmon) and others seemingly less reasonable but promoted by various interest groups and federal agencies.
The inexpensive energy available from hydroelectric dams allows rent-seekers (more on “rent-seeking” here) to tack on the cost of all sorts of fun, interesting, and expensive projects to rate-payers in the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD).
Perhaps the most fun and the least economic project is one testing giant submarine turbines deployed in Puget Sound to generate energy from tidal flows. Each day the tides in Puget Sound flow in and out. Lots of water and lots of potential energy. But how to economically turn tidal flows to useable energy? Underwater turbines can generate energy, but how much and at what cost?
Concern has been voiced that these large ocean turbines might kill killer whales and other sea creatures, so a complex whale monitoring system was added to the plan (Appendix A, pdf here). A model for the modified OpenHydro turbine is below, with whale monitoring instruments attached.
Here are concerns listed from Admiralty Inlet project description:
Major issues: (1) harm due to blade strike on southern resident killer whale (SRKW) and listed salmon and steelhead, (2) noise disturbance and displacement of SRKW; (3) electromagnetic field (EMF) effects on SRKW and listed rockfish; (4) habitat alteration for listed rockfish; and (5) navigation impairment by towboats. Licensing as a pilot project will likely hinge on getting a no jeopardy biological opinion from NMFS, which will require that the project be able to detect and avoid any harmful interaction with the SRKW.
(And, as readers may have guessed, this last bit is sort of a test to see how many people read to the bottom of the post…)