|Tidal waters off the Maine coast.|
According to the Commission's Order Issuing Pilot Project License (85-page PDF), the proposed project features two tidal turbines to be manufactured by OpenHydro, each measuring 6 meters in diameter, secured to the seabed by the turbines' 414-ton weight. Peak tidal currents at the site exceed 3 meters per second. The Public Utility District plans to connect the project to the mainland grid via subsea cables connecting to District-leased land south of the Coupeville Ferry Terminal.
In granting the pilot license, the Commission considered a range of possible resource impacts from the project. The site lies near key shipping lanes to the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett, and is near a key trans-oceanic fiber optic cable connecting North America to Japan. To address concerns over impacts to these resources, the Commission imposed conditions and monitoring requirements on the project.
The Commission's pilot licensure program differs somewhat from its general licensing of hydropower projects. As described in a whitepaper on the pilot project licensing process prepared by Commission staff, pilot projects should be (1) small; (2) short term; (3) located in non-sensitive areas based on the Commission’s review of the record; (4) removable and able to be shut down on short notice; (5) removed, with the site restored, before the end of the license term (unless a new license is granted); and (6) initiated by a draft application in a form sufficient to support environmental analysis. Projects meeting these criteria enjoy a streamlined regulatory review process.
With the pilot license in hand, the Public Utility District may prepare for project development. But if the project goes forward, the District may have to justify its costs. As noted in the Commission’s order, the project has relatively high capital, operation, and maintenance costs with respect to the amount of power produced. According to the Commission’s order, the levelized annual cost of operating the project will be about $1,848,294, or $7,574.98 per megawatt-hour of energy generated -- significantly higher than the estimated $30/MWh cost of alternative power. Based on an estimated average annual generation of 244,000 kilowatt-hours as licensed, Commission staff projects that in the first year of operation, the project power will cost $1,840,974 more than the cost of alternative power.
Admittedly, the Snohomish project is designed as an experiment -- a pilot project to test technology and project feasibility. The Snohomish project is among the first hydrokinetic projects in the country to receive a FERC license. The first pilot project issued for a tidal project, the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project, similarly faces projected above-market energy costs. Like the Roosevelt Island project, the Snohomish project will be relatively small. But given its financial picture, will the Snohomish project go forward?