FERC rules in disputes over Washington tidal energy project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on June 19 gave a win to the Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County, Wash., in a dispute over a 0.6-MW tidal energy project.

On May 6, the district, as licensee of the Admiralty Inlet Pilot Tidal Project, filed a petition for a declaratory order. The district requested that the commission declare that: the Federal Power Act (FPA) preempts the regulatory authority of Island County, Wash., and the Washington State Department of Ecology under Washington’s Shoreline Management Act over the district’s actions to construct, operate, and maintain the project under its license; and that the district is therefore not required to obtain Island County’s and Ecology’s approval in the form of a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit.

Also pending were two requests for rehearing filed by PC Landing Corp. and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington of the commission’s March 20 order issuing a pilot project license to the district for the project. With its rehearing request, Tulalip filed a motion for a stay of the license.

The FERC commissioners on June 19 granted the petition for a declaratory order and denied a stay. The requests for rehearing will be addressed in a subsequent order.

The 600-kW Admiralty Inlet Tidal Project will be located on the east side of Admiralty Inlet in Puget Sound, Wash. The licensee plans to install and operate two 300-kW hydrokinetic turbines over a ten-year period to study the potential for developing tidal power in Puget Sound.

The district filed a license application for the project in March 2012. A number of parties intervened, including Tulalip and PC Landing. Tulalip objected to the proposed project on the grounds that it would affect the Tribes’ access to tribal fishing grounds. PC Landing argued that the project would pose an unacceptable risk to its fiber optic submarine cable system, which provides an international telecommunications link between the United States and Japan.

The commission’s June 19 order said:

  • The petition for a declaratory order filed in this proceeding by the Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County on May 6 is granted.
  • The motion for a stay pending rehearing and judicial review of the commission’s March 20 order issuing a pilot license for the Admiralty Inlet Project, filed in this proceeding by the Tulalip Tribes of Washington, is denied.
  • The motion for leave to file an answer and an answer to responses to the petition for a declaratory order, filed by the district on June 12, is denied.

The commission wrote about tribal concerns: “The project will be short-term, will occupy an extremely small portion of Admiralty Inlet, and does not create a need for any travel or navigational restrictions on project waters. Moreover, the license contains no prohibitions on the right to fish in and around project waters, and includes appropriate conditions to protect tribal fisheries.”

The commission wrote on the permitting issue: “Our authority under the FPA is limited to our licensees; we have no regulatory authority over Ecology or Island County in this case. Therefore, our declaration simply provides our interpretation of the FPA as it relates to other federal, state, and local laws. In addition, because the District intends to comply voluntarily with all conditions of the Shoreline Permit except the stay of construction, we need not examine those conditions in detail to determine whether they are consistent with the license. We note that in the event of any actual conflict, however, the federal license would govern.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.