For eons, powerful tides have raged through Puget Sound, ripping along at 11 feet per second at their peak, predictable as the phases of the moon. Three years from now, a local utility hopes to begin converting a portion of that raw energy to electricity, part of a growing effort to harness the tides to power homes and businesses miles from the smell of salt air.
The Snohomish County Public Utility District's pilot project is small - two turbines with 500 kilowatts of total capacity and an average output of 50 kilowatts - hardly a panacea for all that ails the United States' energy portfolio. But tidal power is garnering increasing attention as a niche supplier of renewable alternative energy in Washington, Maine and Alaska. The tides, some say, have the potential to light five percent of the nation's homes - nearly nine gigawatts of generating power.