Tidal Energy, but at what cost?

Tidal Energy, but at what cost?

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Orca Conservancy, along with four other conservation groups, are requesting your participation in opposing the Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal FERC Project No. 12690, to be sited on the east side of Admiralty Inlet in Puget Sound, Washington, about 1 kilometer west of Admiralty Head and part of Whidbey Island. Our opposition is not against ‘green alternative energy’, but we do oppose the current site chosen.

This OpenHydro Pilot Tidal Turbine Project could have detrimental impacts on our treasured Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, as well as affecting transient orcas and 12 other Federally Protected ESA species, including Chinook Salmon, Chum Salmon, North Pacific Humpback Whales, and the Eastern Stellar Sea Lion.

It is urgent that the constituents of Washington get involved immediately and ask a lot more questions BEFORE we allow this project to continue. Species.AdmiraltyInlet

The Endangered Southern Resident Community of Killer Whales (SRKWs) is now at the lowest population number in more than a decade. The three family groups, J, K and L Pod, currently stand at 82 members, (Center for Whale Research, 7/2013). Adding insult to injury, there have been no calves born this year despite recovery plans in place in Canada and the U.S.

What clearly needs to be understood is that tidal energy production is still very much in its infancy. That the amount of power produced so far has been small. Currently, only two commercial-sized tidal power plants operate in the world. One is located in La Rance, France; the other is in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada.

In the United States, there are valid and legitimate legal concerns about underwater land ownership and environmental impact. Investors are not enthusiastic about tidal energy because there is not a strong guarantee that it will make money or benefit consumers. Placing turbines in tidal streams (Admiralty Inlet) is complex, because the machines are large and disrupt the tide they are trying to harness. The environmental impact could be severe, depending on the size of the turbine and the site of the tidal stream. Since the Admiralty Inlet project is placing TWO 4-story tall turbines into Admiralty inlet the environmental impact is much greater.

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A prior attempt by Nova Scotia Power and OpenHydro with a large experimental turbine project in the Bay of Fundy forced Nova Scotia Power to pull the device out of the water a year ahead of schedule. This is not the first time Nova Scotia Power and its partner, OpenHydro has faced such challenges. Within a week of the turbine being lowered to the Bay of Fundy floor, the companies lost contact with an onboard wireless sensor that was supposed to send continuous data to the surface.

Additionally, Nova Scotia Power, abandoned its research and development into tidal energy after powerful currents chewed up a $10-million OpenHydro turbine less than a month after it was deployed in November 2009. All 12 turbine rotor blades were destroyed by tidal flows that were two and a half times stronger than what the turbine was designed to withstand. (Read CBC.ca article HERE). Furthermore, the Department of Energy (DOE) is set to deliver a pending $10 million federal grant for the Admiralty Inlet project.

This less than stellar track record should put even more urgency on our opposition as we clearly cannot cropped-screen-shot-2012-09-15-at-2-46-25-pm.pngcontinue to put these threats in front of the SRKWs when the tidal turbines could just as easily be sited elsewhere. Sooner or later the Endangered SRKWs will prove themselves to be the mortal creatures they are. If we choose to keep these majestic creatures in our own backyard and as an icon of the PNW, we cannot slack on their protection, especially now.

Let’s go back a few years, because this isn’t the first time the pro-green energy community has had its blinders on when it comes to potentially harmful turbine installations.  Nearly a decade ago, the rush was on to install wind turbines throughout the west.  It was heralded as a non-CO2-emitting alternative to fossil fuels, the Big Pushback to climate change, and nearly every environmental groups were cheerleaders.  Some took consulting fees to sign onto the projects, eager for both the association and the financial support.  But one group had the courage to say, “Wait a minute…”  In 2003, The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit against wind-turbine operators in California’s Altamount Pass, saying that the expedited siting analyses done on the project resulted in the turbines being placed directly in the path of protected species such as the golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel and burrowing owl. CBD took a surprising amount of criticism at the time from fellow environmentalists, many claiming the group was standing directly in the path of green energy.  The critics claimed CBD was giving the public the impression that the conservation community was divided about wind turbine development.  And yet, The Center continued to speak out about the need to put more thought into the siting of these massive turbines, still expressing its support of green energy but keeping operators — and enviros — on their toes, to make sure we didn’t unnecessarily destroy wildlife while we try to save the planet.  Their persistence ultimately paid off, as wind turbines today are no longer sited in such sensitive travel corridors for sensitive birds.  Wind projects have continued to boom, and the number of raptors killed each year by them has decreased dramatically.

But it took the courage of one group, CBD, to go against a rushing current of government, businesses and non-profits to make this happen.  It’s the same indefatigability CBD showed when it represented Orca Conservancy and five other plaintiffs in our historic U.S. District Court victory that led to the Southern Resident Community of orcas getting its first-ever federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.  Our petition to list the Southerns under ESA was at first rejected by NOAA Fisheries, which then offered up a far-weaker protection scheme under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and began doling out federal grants to cash-strapped orca protection groups.  Most of our fellow petitioners dropped out of our ESA case.  One high-profile orca group held public meetings for NOAA officials to explain how MMPA is the exact same thing as ESA, and how the lawsuit we had in the courts then was a waste of time.

And yet CBD (and our co-counsel, EarthJustice) forged ahead with the case, and all of us took hits from the environmental community.  Once again, we were accused of giving the public impression that conservationists were divided about how to protect the orcas.  Some feared our actions would dismantle the alternative MMPA protection for the whales.

Of course, they were wrong.  We won our U.S. District Court case to list the SRKWs under the U.S. ESA, and today we’re seeing at long last a concerted and urgent effort to recover the resident orca population in the Pacific Northwest.  Most importantly, the ESA listing allows public oversight to the federal efforts, unlike what would’ve been afforded under the MMPA.  That right to question the feds — and the NGOs they contract — on matters that otherwise would go unchallenged.  Like the siting of these Admiralty Inlet Tidal Turbines.  And like CBD’s courageous stand 10 years ago with wind turbines, we believe the result will be a more thoughtful approach to siting these installations, and ultimately as we learn to be more thoughtful and engaged with the community, green energy won’t skip a beat.  We’re not turning back the tide.

All that being said……  Alternative energy is defined as energy derived from sources that do not use up natural resources or harm the environment. Therefore, it is important when considering a plan of this significance to distinguish between environmental effects AND environmental impacts.  Recent reviews of the potential environmental impacts of tidal power technologies have been conducted (e.g., Michel et al. 2007, Wilson et al. 2007, DOE 2009, Kramer et al. 2010), but these assessments are not based on in situ monitoring of environmental impacts and only are able to describe potential impacts. It’s clear from the best available science that there just is not a lot of data yet on tidal turbines and the effects they have on wildlife.

At this stage, the science we do have points to potential and serious problems if even a single member of the SRKW community is harmed or injured.  Further research to determine proof positive results is crucial before placing them in a critical habitat, and until those studies can produce favorable and quantitative results, a new area must be considered.

Please sign the petition in opposition of the Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Turbine Project, which will be sent to our elected officials and regulators in Washington State


For detailed information, please read our opposition letter sent to FERC on May 23, 2013: OPPOSITION LETTER.

By all means, please feel free to contact your state representatives and regulators (see list provided below) to express your disapproval to the turbine project at this location. Here’s a pre-formatted letter that can help you with what you wish to say.

Dear (Elected Politician), 

I understand that two tidal turbines are currently planned for siting in the Admiralty Inlet area of Puget Sound, within the critical habitat of the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. 

I strongly oppose this proposal and urge you to oppose the application for the turbines’ license now pending at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Docket No. P-12690 (Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Project), and tell the Department of Energy to decline a pending $10 million federal grant for the project. 

Allowing these structures in a critical passageway for the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population poses an unacceptable risk to this endangered species, and sets a dangerous precedent for siting of future projects within their critical habitat.

Thank you.

– – – – – – – – – – –

1. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee / Sam Ricketts – sam.ricketts@gov.wa.gov
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-002

Phone: (360) 902-4111 / Sam Ricketts cell phone: (360) 584-6362

2. Senator Patricia Murray / Jaime Shimek – jaime_shimek@murray.sent.gov and shawn_bills@murray.senate.gov
2988 Jackson Federal Building
915 2nd Avenue
Seattle, WA 98174

Phone: (202) 224-2621

3. Senator Maria Cantwell / Pete Modaff – pete_modaff@cantwell.senate.gov and Nicole Teutschel (oceans policy) nicole_teutschel@cantwell.senate.gov
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20002

Phone: (202) 224-3441

4. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene / Aaron Schmidt – aaron.schmidt@mail.house.gov
Canyon Park Business Center
22121 17th Avenue, SE
Building E, Suite 220
Bothell, WA 98021

Phone: (202) 225-6311

5. Congressman Rick Larsen / Kim Johnson – kim.johnston@mail.house.gov
Wall Street Building
2930 Wetmore Avenue
Suite 9-F
Everett, WA 98201 and at:

119 North Commercial Street
Suite 1350
Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: (202) 225-5916

6. Congressman Derek Kilmer / Johathan Smith – jonathan.smith@mail.house.gov
1429 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Phone: (202) 225-5916

7. Congressman Jim McDermott / Toby Whitney – toby.whitney@mail.house.gov
1809 7th Avenue
Suite 1212
Seattle, WA 98101-1399

Phone: (202) 225-3160

8. Congressman Adam Smith / Shana Chandler – shana.chandler@mail.house.gov
101 Evergreen Building
15 South Grady Way
Renton, WA 98057

Phone: (202) 225-8901

9. Congressman Denny Heck / Jami Burgess – jami.burgess@mail.house.gov
6000 Main Street, SW
Lakewood, WA 98499

Phone: (202) 225-9740

– – – – – – –

Mr. David Turner
Division of Hydropower Licensing
Office of Energy Projects
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

– – – – – – –

United States Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Marine Fisheries Service
1201 NE Lloyd Boulevard, Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97232-1274
Attention: Kim Hatfield


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