Environment Northwest: Tidal Energy Sparks Concerns Over Impact on Marine Life

Environment Northwest: Tidal Energy Sparks Concerns Over Impact on Marine Life

Gary Chittim, Environmental Specialist, KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)

November 18, 2013

Anchor Dennis Bounds: A groundbreaking plan to generate underwater power in Puget Sound is now generating concern for marine life.

Anchor Lori Matsukawa: Tidal energy is dubbed the clean power of the future, but as KING 5 environmental specialist Gary Chittim reports, not everyone is on board.

Gary Chittim in Bellingham shipyard: The newest addition to the Puget Sound whale watching fleet is being custom-fitted for the job.

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching: We’re going to place the whole upper deck here, you’re seeing the start of it now…

Gary Chittim: The Island Explorer 4 is being customize above and below deck.

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching: C’mon down..

Gary Chittim: The engine room is being beefed-up, and toned down. Mechanics will refit this boat to use less fuel, produce more speed, and produce less sound.

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching: Low-noise propellers, larger exhausts…

(orcas surfacing)

Gary Chittim: Whale watch boats have to be quieter, to protect their star attraction — endangered Southern Resident orcas could be harmed by too much noise. So the fleet spends millions to be as silent as possible.

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching: We’re working on making it quieter. But to put this amount of noise into the water, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before that happens.

Gary Chittim: This is what he’s worried about — underwater generators that the Snohomish County PUD wants to put in Admiralty Inlet in Puget Sound. They’re big, powerful, and loud.

Craig Collar, Snohomish PUD: The median broadband sound put in by the turbines is about 145 decibels.

(sound-up, Seahawks game)

Gary Chittim: That’s louder than the short-lived record crowd noise of 136.6 decibels generated by the 12th Man this year…

(sound-up, “Seahawks!!”)

Gary Chittim: But PUD officials say that’s nothing compared to Admiralty Inlet’s other noisemakers.

Craig Collar, Snohomish PUD: The sound of the Port Townsend ferry that crosses Admiralty Inlet very near to where the turbines will be is about 175 decibels, and a big, large tanker or cargo vessel going through Admiralty Inlet is about 180 decibels or more.

Gary Chittim: The PUD says researchers have extensively studied the underwater site and found it’s a great place for turbines that can produce a lot of power, but not enough sound to harm sealife. They say tidal power could be the least harmful, most effective energy producer since hydroelectric dams. Some environmental groups are thrilled with the idea of replacing carbon-producing power plants with “deep green” tidal power.  But whale watching groups, local tribes and others say Admiralty Inlet is a critical passage for sensitive sea creatures entering and exiting Puget Sound.

Gary Chittim, on beach: They’re not saying that they’re totally against the idea of tidal power. What they’re asking is, is this place where all of these salmon and orca travel the best place to find out if it’s safe or not?

(sound-up, welder working on Island Explorer 4)

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching: Those whales are back and forth right in front of the proposed zone that they’re looking to put these power generation tidal turbines.

Craig Collar, Snohomish PUD: Admiralty Inlet at the point where we’re going to install the turbines is over three miles across. The size of a turbine motor is 20 feet.

Gary Chittim: If all goes well, the generators could be installed by 2015. But this project will be producing a lot more noise topside before the turbines begin spinning underneath.  In Everett, Gary Chittim, KING 5 News.

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About orcaconservancy

Orca Conservancy is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working on behalf of orcinus orca, the killer whale, and protecting the wild places on which it depends. Successful Petitioner and Litigant in historic U.S. District Court case to list Southern Resident orcas as "Endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act -- the first-ever federal protection for the population. Leader in the Springer Project, the first-ever successful translocation and reintroduction of a wild killer whale, a rescue that captured the attention of the world.
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