Boasting the second highest tidal range in North America (the Bay of Fundy, also
the site of an ORPC project, has the highest), Alaska’s Cook Inlet is an outstanding
resource for tidal energy. ORPC is developing sites throughout Cook Inlet that together,
will eventually create an expansive tidal power system that will deliver a nearly
constant supply of clean, reliable, economic renewable power to utilities from Fairbanks
to the Kenai Peninsula.
ORPC’s Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Project will begin with a project at our East Foreland
site, near the town of Nikiski, Alaska. At this site, ORPC is collaborating with
the Homer Electric Association on a smaller pilot project that will bring tidal
power to the Homer Electric grid while creating high-quality, sustainable jobs on
the Kenai Peninsula. This pilot project could ultimately produce up to 5 megawatts
of electricity, enough to power 2,300 Kenai Peninsula homes.
The Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Project also includes a site on the west side of Fire
Island, two miles west of Anchorage. ORPC power systems at this site will connect
directly to a wind turbine project being installed on Fire Island, and will supply
the city of Anchorage as well as the Railbelt grid, which provides electricity to
most of Alaska’s population.
Anchorage and the Alaskan Railbelt grid currently rely on Cook Inlet natural gas
for most of their power. If this continues, experts predict that the region will
deplete its natural gas reserves as early as 2022. ORPC’s Cook Inlet Tidal Energy
Project will provide a much-needed alternate energy source, generating clean, renewable
power to supplement natural gas. It will also create new local jobs and sustain
existing ones. This project has received enthusiastic support and assistance from
the Anchorage community, including the Alaska Energy Authority, Anchorage Economic
Development Corporation, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Renewable Energy Alaska
Project, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, the University of Alaska Anchorage,
and numerous local businesses and non-profits.
Through ORPC’s commitment to protecting marine life, we have also earned the cooperation
of regulatory agencies and environmental groups. A special concern in Cook Inlet
is that local beluga whales, recently listed as endangered, inhabit the waters of
northern Cook Inlet adjacent to our Fire Island site. In 2009, the U.S. Department
of Energy awarded ORPC a $600,000 grant to monitor these whales with state-of-the-art
passive hydroacoustic technology. Information gathered through this grant and through
future studies will allow us to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this protected
whale population as the project continues.
For Alaska, the success of ORPC’s Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Project will signal an
exciting and important step forward in energy diversity. The state possesses 90%
of the country’s total tidal power potential, and with the increased distribution
of ORPC power systems, much of Alaska will be able to depend on clean, renewable,
affordable tidal energy.