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Cook Inlet's Extreme Tides Attract Renewable-Power Developer

river turbine
The riverine version of ORPC's turbine technology, seen here at Igiugig, Alaska (ORPC)

Published May 26, 2021 9:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

Alaska's Kenai Peninsula may soon be home to an advanced tidal energy power project. Tidal-power developer ORPC has applied for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permit for the installation of a five-megawatt pilot project near Nikiski, with plans for a phased development of a 100-megawatt commercial scale plant. 

Nikiski is desirable as a development site because of the "extreme velocity" of the tides in Cook Inlet, ORPC representative Merrick Jackinsky told local KDLL Radio. But tidal power technology is still in its early days, and monetizing Cook Inlet's tidal resources will likely take years of permitting and trials.

ORPC has already installed one of its units at an inland site on the Kvichak River in Igiugig, Alaska, near Bristol Bay. The firm says that the installation is the longest-running water current powerplant of its kind in the U.S., and it will soon be upgraded with a second unit. With two ORPC systems in place, the local community expects to cut its diesel consumption for power generation by 60-90 percent. 

For the Nikiski project, ORPC is partnering with local utility Homer Electric Association (HEA) to bring the power to market. HEA is already building a battery-storage system to accommodate more power input from intermittent resources, and when completed later this year, it will be able to save aside more than 90 MWh of surplus energy at a time for later delivery to the grid. This will allow the utility to incorporate more renewables and maintain reliability while cutting down on its fuel expenditures. 

ORPC says that it is in talks with the fishing port of False Pass - which also runs its power grid on diesel, like many remote Alaskan communities - for the installation of a similar tidal energy project.