San Francisco looking into tidal energy

Public Utilities Commission to conduct feasibility study of underwater energy source

The tidal force of the waters under the Golden Gate Bridge could create enough energy to power up to 12 percent of San Francisco’s homes, city officials said Monday.

Called tidal power, the environmentally friendly energy can be generated several ways. San Francisco officials are looking at the use of turbines, or moving blades, that would rotate with the surging tides to create the power.

There are numerous questions to be answered and regulatory steps to navigate before The City could move full speed ahead with any plan, however. A preliminary study, funded by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute, stated that the Golden Gate was an ideal site for a tidal power system because of the “enormity of energy that can be produced,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

On Monday, SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal announced that the agency was ready to invest $150,000 to further study the specifics of such a project.

Expected to take 12 to 18 months, the feasibility study will research available technologies, potential environmental impacts on the Bay and aquatic life, and the required regulatory process, Leal said.

While applauding The City for pursuing cleaner, alternative energy sources, the executive director of the environmental group Heal The Bay, David Lewis, said he hoped the investigation wouldn’t overlook such impacts as whether the power generators would include toxic materials or any effect the turbines would have on tidal flow or the water temperature, among other concerns.

If The City proceeds, it will likely have the first such project on the West Coast. New York is slated to try the technology with turbines in the East River.

Private firm holds permit to tidal waters

While San Francisco is studying the possibility of using the power of Golden Gate tides to create renewable power, a private company has already laid claim to the project.

Last year, Joseph Shaw, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on behalf of a company calling itself Golden Gate Energy to create tidal energy on San Francisco Bay. The company has filed for permits at coastal sites around the country where powerful water currents exist, but only one has been issued — for San Francisco, according to the company’s general counsel, Tom Hoover.

City officials dismissed Golden Gate as speculators trying to cash in on the future of tidal energy, but without the resources to do it themselves.

“We’ve never taken them seriously,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Hoover said he couldn’t disclose the exact amount the company hadraised for the project, but said it was “in the millions.”

Newsom said The City was able to wait out Golden Gate’s federal permit, which is set to expire in 2008, investigating the feasibility of creating a tidal power plant in the meantime.

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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