Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 5:26 PM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Agencies look for energy potential in Cook Inlet tides

By Molly Dischner
Morris News Service - Alaska

Cook Inlet's tides are getting a closer look as a potential energy source with a recent agreement between the Alaska Energy Authority and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The authority announced last month that the two agencies are partnering on a baseline assessment of tidal hydrokinetic energy in the inlet. According to the announcement, NOAA will measure and model water levels, current, salinity and temperature fields within the inlet.

Rich Paten, from NOAA, said those variables are being studied because the decision of where to locate hydrokinetic facilities is based primarily on spatial and temporal variability in currents. In Cook Inlet, those variables are related to salinity and temperature.

According to the agreement between NOAA and AEA, the study also will look at what information is available about Cook Inlet tides, and what is missing. The existing models for relevant conditions in Kachemak Bay and northern Cook Inlet also will be refined.

The study comes on the heals of two private tidal energy efforts in the Cook Inlet.

One is being undertaken by Ocean Renewable Power Company, a Maine-based entity that is partnering with Homer Electric Association to develop tidal power offshore from Nikiski. The other is by Turnagain Arm Tidal Energy Corporation, which is going through the regulatory process for a tidal project near Point Possession.

Peter Krimp from AEA's sister entity, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, said the study responds to interest from industry as well as other parties like the state of Alaska and the city of Homer. Krimp said Homer had previously submitted two applications for Renewable Energy Fund money, a pool doled out by AEA, to assess tidal resources in Kachemak Bay.

"Working with NOAA, AEA concluded that it was a better fit to expand the study to the entire inlet and use other alternative energy state funds consistent with the purpose of the study," Krimp said in an email.

The project is actually being lead by the National Ocean Service's Center for Operational Oceanographic Product and Services, which produces all of NOAA's tide and tidal current data.

Funding for the work is coming from both AEA and NOAA. Krimp said AEA is contributing $350,000, and NOAA is providing at least $375,000 worth of in-kind goods and services.

Krimp said the study will cover the entire inlet.

Kris Holderied from NOAA's Kasitsna Bay Lab said the partnership will have multiple benefits for local research efforts.

The ocean circulation model and information produced for the tidal study also will be useful for studies on coastal climate change, ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms, Holderied said. Those algal blooms can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. The information also could be helpful in shellfish management efforts and oil spill response planning. The Kasitsna Bay Lab is on the south side of Kachemak Bay.

According to the agreement between the two agencies, NOAA's National Ocean Service is responsible for getting necessary permits.

Much of the field work is scheduled for next summer, although the agreement calls for the preliminary Kachemak Bay and northern Cook Inlet models to be ready this October. The final modal analyses are due in December 2012, with a complete product in March 2013.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.