Clean Energy Project Raises Concerns Among Conservationists

Clean Energy Project Raises Concerns Among Conservationists
Allen Shauffler, Al Jazeera America
November 18, 2013

Capt. Carl Williams, Island Adventures Whale Watching:  Eagles, seals, porpoises…

Allen Shauffler, Al Jazeera:  Shane Aggergaard has been running wildlife boat tours for two decades. Orcas, or blackfish as they’re sometimes called, are a big tourist draw in Northwest waters – the “Salish Sea.” But Aggergaard sees a new threat to the orcas and the all-important salmon, the main diet of the local orca species.

Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures Whale Watching:  If we don’t have fish, we have no blackfish.

Allen Shauffler:  This is what he’s worried about — two huge turbines, 40 feet high. They’ll be installed on the sea floor and spin with the tides, nearly 200 feet down. It’s a $20m pilot project testing the viability of tidal energy. Aggergaard sees trouble.

Shane Aggergaard:  Do you really want our endangered Southern Resident killer whales around big egg beaters?  I don’t.

Craig Collar, Snohomish County Public Utilities District:  There’s just no basis for which this project as it stands now could harm fish or marine mammals. And we’ve done an awful lot of work to substantiate that.

Allen Shauffler:  Craig Collar hopes to have the project, which has been in the works for six years, fully licensed by the Federal Regulatory Commission within months. An extensive environmental review found no threat to wildlife, but the project is still opposed by four Native American tribes with fishing rights in the area, and by a company that owns underwater data cables near the site.

Craig Collar, PUD:  You’re really only going to gather actual data to inform these questions by doing something, by putting them out there in the water and seeing how these things are going to work.

Allen Shauffler:  Professor Brian Polagye is designing the cameras and instrument package for what he sees as a valuable underwater laboratory.

Prof. Brian Polagye, University of Washington School of Engineering:  So, it’s an opportunity to learn about tidal energy, learn about how marine mammals interact with tidal energy, but also about how marine mammals and fish use these areas that are really understudied.

Allen Shauffler:  But Aggergaard and others who work these waters worry that any experiment that bring these animals and this technology together could be a mistake.

Allen Shauffler, standup on Island Explorer 3:  Tour boat operators say that they’re not against trying to tap tidal energy. They say this is the right kind of project, it’s just in the wrong place.

Allen Shauffler:  This is the site.  Admiralty Inlet. For shipping traffic and for marine animals, it’s the main entrance to busy Puget Sound. And now conservationists find themselves defending orcas, and fighting against natural allies.

Michael Harris, Orca Conservancy/Pacific Whale Watch Association:  We’re kinda swimming upstream, because this is alternative energy.  This is green energy.  This is something we all support.  We love green energy.

Allen Shauffler:  Energy that could be spinning up from the bottom — orcas or no orcas — by the summer of 2015.  Allen Shauffler, Al Jazeera, on the Salish Sea.

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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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