Harnessing the inlet's tides makes sense

Posted: Sunday, April 03, 2011

The announcement last week that Homer Electric Association is joining forces with Ocean Renewable Power Company is encouraging news.

Ocean Renewable has been conducting preliminary studies since last year, looking at how to adapt their tidal power generation to draw on the powerful tides of Cook Inlet. And just weeks ago, they approached Homer Electric with the idea of tackling the challenge together. To HEA's credit, they jumped at the opportunity.

The idea here is basically a turbine powered by the tides to generate electricity. And with the inlet's tidal range of up to 12 meters -- second largest in North America -- we're talking about a huge amount of kinetic energy that could be tapped.

This could be great idea for a number of reasons.

First, the energy source is right there. Many of us drive by it nearly every day. Proximity makes harvesting easier.

Second, the energy source is about as clean as you can get, and it's eternal. Tides don't stop.

Third, it's predictable. Almost anyone who works or plays on the water knows how to read a tide table. A steady, predictable energy source means steady, predictable power.

Fourth, with HEA involved from the beginning, its engineers can work hand-in-hand with Ocean Renewable's engineers to build a system custom fit to tie right into the existing electrical grid.

Mind you, we're not talking about totally abandoning natural gas that we already need to generate power. We're talking about depending on it less and less, and harnessing an energy source as eternal as the tides can stabilize and possibly even reduce energy costs.

And the potential for the Kenai Peninsula could be even greater. HEA's general manager, Brad Janorschke, told the Clarion last week that if this technology proves itself in the inlet, the units could be manufactured right here. The mechanics, welders, engineers and other skilled workers necessary to get the job done are us, our friends and our neighbors.

More over, if this technology can be applied in other Alaska coastal communities, the manufacturing aspect can continue for years to come.

Now, before we get too excited, we have to remember that the company is still in preliminary study phase. They have working prototypes generating power now in the company's home state of Maine. But the inlet presents special challenges in areas such as environmental considerations and working in silt-laden water, to name a few. There's also a permitting process to adhere to. The soonest we might see an actual pilot project go online would be 2013.

But there's a genuine enthusiasm on the faces of HEA officials when they talk about the project. And engineers don't often grin so wide unless there's something to be excited about.

Since the announcement of the ConocoPhillips/Marathon LNG plant shutdown earlier this year, we've editorialized on this page that Kenai Peninsula residents need to start looking for new ideas to reduce our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels.

We think this joint effort between Homer Electric and Ocean Renewable is an excellent example of what we were looking for.

Let's hope there are more ideas that come along just like this one.

In short: There's definitely a future in exploring new energy alternatives and technologies.

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