Contact: Shari Tarantino
President of the Board of Directors, Orca Conservancy
CONSERVATION GROUPS, NORTHWEST TRIBES AND WHALE WATCH OPERATORS RAISE CONCERNS ABOUT SITING OF TIDAL TURBINE PROJECT
Admiralty Inlet Location Said to be a Direct Threat to 14 Federally Protected Species, Including Southern Resident Orcas and Chinook Salmon
Seattle, WA – The proposed siting of a pilot green energy project has raised a big red flag among conservationists in the Pacific Northwest.
A coalition of groups led by the Seattle-based non-profit Orca Conservancy, a petitioner and ultimately successful litigant in the historic U.S. District Court that led to the first-ever federal protection of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Community of orcas under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), has joined the Suquamish Tribe, the Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribes, the Tulalip Tribes, OrcaLab, Naked Whale Research, Fins and Fluke, Voice of the Orcas, and the Pacific Whale Watch Association in expressing strong concerns over the installation of two four-story-tall tidal turbines off the west shore of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound’s Admiralty Inlet.
Orca Conservancy today sent an online petition to elected officials and regulators opposing the pilot tidal energy project as proposed by Snohomish Public Utility District (PUD) and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), citing the unacceptable risk the installation poses to sensitive wildlife, including orcas, humpback whales and Chinook salmon.
The Snohomish PUD, by its own admission, hopes to place these turbines squarely in the path of orcas and 13 other federally protected species listed under the ESA. Other possible sites were explored, but the Admiralty Inlet location was chosen primarily to save the PUD money installing, maintaining and, in the event of approaching whales, manually braking the turbines to avoid injuries. The PUD estimates the time between a report of incoming wildlife and a diver-initiated shutdown of the blades at approximately five hours. Orcas are the fastest marine mammals on the planet, capable of speeds of about 35 miles per hour.
The project proposed by the Snohomish PUD and supported by DOE would require $10 million in taxpayer funding and generate electricity at a cost of about $8,500 per megawatt-hour – almost 300 times the $30/MWh cost of available sources of electricity.
“Green energy projects often go unchallenged by environmentalists, especially ones under water, so when we first raised concerns about this one, we were sort-of going against the current,” explained Orca Conservancy’s President Shari Tarantino. “Our group is fully supportive of finding alternatives to fossil fuel. We’re not opposed to tidal energy in the right location, but this is not it.”
“We just don’t know enough about these experimental turbines,” Tarantino added. “It’s still unclear what the affects these will have on wildlife. That’s quite a gamble. Until there’s more research and a better understanding of the risk, another location must be considered or the entire project should be scrapped.”
The turbines not only pose a threat to any creature coming into contact with them, they’re also dangerously loud. Snohomish PUD admits that the blades will produce noise source levels up to 180 dB, and that “research has shown that killer whales react strongly to a received level of 135 dB – the pain threshold.”
Joining the groups opposing the project as it’s proposed is the world-renowned Canadian research institution, OrcaLab, which also successfully challenged a similar tidal turbine installation earlier this year slated for Blackfish Sound, critical habitat for British Columbia’s Northern Resident Community of orcas, listed by Canada as a Species at Risk.
According to The Center for Whale Research, the current count of Southern Resident orcas stands at 82, the population’s lowest numbers in a decade.