Environmental group: New clean energy project could kill off endangered killer whales

A new clean energy project could wipe out the killer whales off the coast of Washington State, according to an environmental group dedicated to protecting the mammals.

Washington State has decided to build a tidal energy pilot project in Admiralty Inlet in the waters of Puget Sound. It’s a plan that has pitted clean energy advocates against their animal-loving allies in the environmental movement.

While at least a dozen groups have urged federal regulators to thwart the state’s plans, some of the most vocal opponents are environmentalists who say the clean energy project threatens the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.

The Orca Conservancy — the national nonprofit created to protect the killer whale and its habitat — has urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) not to grant a license to the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington State for its tidal pilot project.

The group fears that the 386 metric ton turbines and their accompanying noise would seriously harm the orca population which transits and forages in Admiralty Inlet, where the project would be located.

“It is clear from the best available science that there just aren’t a lot of data yet on tidal turbines and the effects they have on wildlife. At this stage, the science we do have points to potential and serious problems if even a single member of the [Southern Resident Killer Whales] SRKW community is harmed or injured,” the Orca Conservancy said.

Craig Collar, assistant general manager for the PUD said his team considered a number of variables when selecting the site, including, “proximity to shore, so shoreline observers can observe for things like orca[s].”

He said the PUD would never move forward if the project would harm the endangered orcas. He said the PUD is part of the community in the northwest that wants to protect the whale, its habitat and the surrounding ecosystem.

“There is no credible mechanism for this [pilot] project to harm an orca,” Collar told The Daily Caller.

Yet the Orca Conservancy, in two separate letters to the FERC — one on February 25 and another with other environmental groups on May 23 — said, “a new area must be considered.”

When asked about the opposition, Collar said the Orca Conservancy is coming into this process “very very very late,” and two Department of Energy national laboratories have already determined the whales are safe.  If approved, the Energy Department would provide a $10 million grant for half of the tidal project’s $20 million cost.

The Pacific Northwest National Lab and the Sandia National Lab conducted a study to assuage concerns from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) after it “expressed concerns that the turbines may cause a risk for the highly endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population if a whale is struck by an operating turbine.”

Collar said the study showed the whales would not be harmed.  The tidal turbine “spins so slowly,” that if an animal engaged with it, “the rotor would push their body out of the way.”