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New Study: Puget Sound as Power Source?

May 7, 2007

Can the tides in Puget Sound be used to generate electric power? The Snohomish County Public Utility District is launching a 3-year study to find out. By summer, the PUD will begin measuring tidal currents at seven sites around Puget Sound. Tidal power is seen as a potential source of clean, renewable, emission-free energy, but more than 200 stakeholders, from the ferry system to fishing and conservation groups to Native American tribes, must all have a say in how the project unfolds. Craig Collar is managing the study for the PUD. He explains how the technology works.

“In this case, the tidal currents and the flow of water, which is about 800 times denser than wind, so a very energy-dense source, is moving the blades or vanes of an energy conversion device. It’s just like a windmill, except it's underwater.”

So far, tidal energy is only being generated in one place in the U.S. -- on the East River in New York -- and that project has been up and running less than a year. Collar says the potential benefits of tidal power are that tides are more reliable than wind, and in the case of Puget Sound, the power could be generated closer to the state's most populous areas, which may keep transmission costs lower.

Collar believes it will put Washington at the cutting edge of clean energy technology and research.

“It's still very new. There aren't a lot of folks in the world doing this yet, so technically there are still questions to be answered. Most importantly is, can it be done in an environmentally responsible way, with respect to the Puget Sound ecosystem?”

The Snohomish County PUD's Web site contains more information about tidal energy, and a grant the PUD has just received from the Bonneville Power Administration to study its potential in Puget Sound. find it online at

Chris Thomas/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WA