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Utility pulls plug on Puget Sound tidal power plan

Associated Press

EVERETT – A utility has pulled the plug on a project that would have tested generating electricity from tidal waters flowing in and out of Puget Sound.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District said Tuesday that it can’t move forward with putting two turbines underwater off the west shore of Whidbey Island because the U.S. Energy Department decided not to share in the rising costs.

The project would have installed two 65-foot tall turbines about 200 feet in Admiralty Inlet to test whether energy from underwater currents could be a viable long-term power source, the Daily Herald reported.

The initial project estimate in 2006 was about $20 million. A lengthy permitting and licensing process and unexpected costs nearly doubled the price tag to about $38 million, said Steve Klein, the utility’s general manager.

The utility was preparing to get final construction bids when it learned that the federal government wouldn’t increase its share of expenses for the research project. Initial preparation of the site was slated to start next year.

Officials with the Department of Energy’s Water Power Program declined to comment Tuesday. In a statement, the department said it awarded a maximum of $10 million for the Snohomish County project through a specific funding opportunity in 2010, with the understanding that the utility would cover at least half the expense.

The project was the first of its kind in the Northwest and one of the few in the world, so preliminary cost estimates were educated guesswork, Klein said.

“This is not something where we’ve done it and don’t have a handle on the cost,” he told the Herald.

The utility estimated that the project has cost less than $8 million so far, with $3.5 million coming from the Department of Energy. That amount doesn’t include in-kind contributions such as laboratory studies or research by the University of Washington, Klein said.

The utility used several sources to pay for the project, including sales of renewable-energy credits from its wind-power projects.

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