Ideal spot found for first wave of tidal power

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A tidal turbine built by an Irish company could land in a tidal energy sweet spot off Whidbey Island as soon as 2011, officials with the Snohomish County Public Utility District announced Tuesday

After looking for the ideal location in a wide swath of open water between Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula, researchers have narrowed their focus to a small area roughly one square kilometer near the Keystone Ferry Terminal in Admiralty Inlet.

The area has fast currents, a flat sea-bottom and very few fish.

“It’s a boring, dark, rocky bottom,” said Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab. “That’s good.”

Thomson helped lead a research vessel last week that had a robotic underwater camera, perhaps the only one operating in Puget Sound. The group collected data near Admiralty Inlet about water speed, water depth and marine populations.

Researchers will spend the rest of the year revisiting the site and crunching numbers as part of a $100,000 effort funded by the Department of Energy.

“We are trying to refine what is the best place,” Thomson said. “You want to be sure you get it right.”

The U.S. Navy is planning a nearby tidal installation of its own, off Marrowstone Island, that could be installed in 2010, officials have said.

When its site is selected, the PUD plans to drop a specially-built turbine built by OpenHydro, an Irish company that has installed some tidal turbines off the coast of Scotland.

The company has said it plans to use a special barge to drop up to three turbines, which haven’t been built yet, onto the bottom of Admiralty Inlet. Installation won’t require any pilings, or pinning or drilling, officials said.

At maximum capacity they could power roughly 700 homes when it is connected to the grid, according to the PUD.

If the trial is successful, a turbine farm, with many tidal turbines, could be used to generate a lot renewable energy for the Pacific Northwest, officials said.

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