Increased study requirements, loss of DOE backing end Admiralty Inlet tidal pilot project

Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Project

Snohomish County Public Utility District announced it is abandoning plans to develop the 600-kW Admiralty Inlet Pilot tidal project in Washington's Puget Sound.

Snohomish PUD said it would no longer pursue Admiralty Inlet because Department of Energy funding dried up, materials costs have increased, and various entities have mandated increasing amounts of studies and monitoring requirements for what was to be a pilot project.

The developer said it was at the stage of soliciting final bids for construction of the project when it received notice that DOE would not increase its shared expenses for the research project. DOE awarded $10 million to the project in 2010, at which time total project value was estimated at $20.1 million.

"Over the past several years, the cost of the materials needed to eventually build the project has risen and various entities have mandated an increasing amount of studies and monitoring requirements beyond installation of the tidal turbines," the utility said. "These have all contributed to an increase in the estimated cost for the next stage of the research project.

"The DOE had originally accepted responsibility for at least 50 percent of the cost of the project; this support was tied to a fixed dollar amount at a time when the final requirements and costs were undefined. Since then, the costs have increased and the DOE was unwilling to contribute more funds to maintain its proportionate share."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a hydrokinetic pilot project license to Snohomish PUD in March. The 10-year pilot project license (No. 12690) was to allow Snohomish to study, monitor and evaluate the environmental, economic and cultural effects of the hydrokinetic project.

The PUD had spent eight years in the federal, state and local permitting process to get to the point of licensing. However, it said the requirements became more onerous than expected for a temporary research project.

Tidal project faced other obstacles

The project also faced other obstacles. Pacific Crossing, owner of PC-1, a subsea telecommunications cable linking the United States and Japan, sought rehearing of FERC's pilot project license for Admiralty Inlet, which was to be installed near PC-1 in Puget Sound. Pacific Crossing disputed FERC's conclusion that the tidal project would not pose a risk to the undersea fiber-optic communication cable, which is located 170 meters from the project site.

FERC issued a declaratory order in June that hydropower licensing of Admiralty Inlet pre-empted state regulation under the Coastal Zone Management Act in an instance in which the state of Washington unintentionally waived its CZMA permit authority.

While that ruling blocked a state-imposed stay of construction to allow work to begin on Admiralty Inlet, PC Landing filed a Freedom of Information Act document request from FERC and was told FERC did not have documents to support the finding that Washington waived its CZMA authority. PC Landing filed that information with FERC Sept. 18 as part of its challenge to the tidal project’s licensing.

"The tidal project, however, remains worthwhile to pursue on behalf of the nation to further the potential development of marine renewable energy," PUD General Manager Steve Klein said.

Snohomish said a great deal of value has been derived from the study process over the past eight years.

"The University of Washington developed numerous underwater monitoring devices that have application to a variety of ocean-related activities," the utility said. "In addition, much of the work has been focused on baseline conditions of the sea floor and related usage by various fish and marine mammals. This data has greatly enhanced the collective knowledge of the environment and species that inhabit Puget Sound. The results have helped inform tidal energy researchers worldwide."

The research has been a partnership including DOE, the University of Washington, Bonneville Power Administration, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and tidal power equipment manufacturer OpenHydro.

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