Feds Should Come Through in Financing Commitment for SnoPUD Tidal Project

If ever there was a time for President Obama to intervene in renewable energy, it is now.

The Snohomish County PUD has been one of the most responsible, innovative leaders in this field, constantly trying to move the needle in ways that make sense for its ratepayers.

Eight years ago, SnoPUD set out to be one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy with a project designed to test the feasibility of tidal energy—with two 414-ton turbines—to power 100 homes on Whidbey Island.  This would be one of the few tidal energy projects in the world.  Originally, it was estimated to cost $20 million.  The utility and the federal government agreed to share the cost.

In eight years of development, SnoPUD has accomplished at least one huge milestone:  getting a permit from the federal government.  “SnoPUD was able to successfully navigate both state and federal permitting processes to become one of the few projects to acquire a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pilot license,” the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office admitted.

Eight years—for a permit.

The costs have ballooned to $38 million and the federal government has reneged on its pledge.  And why have the costs grown so much?

Most of it can be attributed to requirements imposed by the federal government:

  • The FERC permit requires a list of environmental monitoring requirements, which added $4.5 million to the original forecast.
  • Eight years of legal costs to acquire the permit.
  • An additional $2 million–$3 million to build a new barge to satisfy the requirements of the federal Jones Act, which requires commerce between American ports to be carried on U.S. ships.

More costs were added to defend a legal challenge.

“We spent eight years on this project,” SnoPUD General Manager Steve Klein said.  Now, “the U.S. government refuses to step up and support an equitable sharing plan (splitting costs 50/50), even though it was the U.S. government’s process and requirements that dragged this out and are the primary reasons for the costs going up.”

It is important to remember that this was a pilot project.  It was designed to create a working generator on a small scale to help evaluate the feasibility of this cutting edge technology.   

“This wasn’t just a benefit to Snohomish,” Klein said, “but to the industry and the nation.  What we would learn from this could be applied to potential projects in Alaska and California.”

Having the federal government fail to support the project at this stage is ridiculous.  

Given the public’s vocal support for renewable energy, President Obama ought to step in and pick up the additional $9 million to make this work.

Originally posted here on HeraldNet, October 23, 2014.