Project Aims to Turn Homer Into Tidal Energy Testing Site

Work is continuing on Homer’s Tidal Energy Incubator Project. Those involved, which includes scientists from around the state and University of Alaska engineering students, are trying to find out if they can turn tides into electricity sold on the market. They’ve been studying the tides near Homer’s Deep Water Dock.

Some of the equipment that's been installed at Homer's Deepwater Dock.
Some of the equipment that’s been installed at Homer’s Deepwater Dock. Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

“And the question is, why Kachemak Bay,” said State Representative Paul Seaton. “Well, we have strong tidal currents in here. Not the strongest in the world, but… they fit that realm where there’s docks all around the state that have the kind of tidal velocity that we have. So, if we can develop technology that works here, it will work in numerous places.”

And that’s the project in a nutshell. Seaton told the Homer City Council during its Monday night meeting that the hope is to turn Homer into a testing site for the technology and attract hi-tech industries.

Kris Holderied is a physical oceanographer with NOAA. She said the tidal conditions around the deep water dock could translate into a sort of cookie-cutter approach for other areas around the state and beyond.

“This provides the place to be able to test technology or to create things that we don’t even know about yet. We can’t even imagine yet. We’ve got the right place to do that for applications to a lot of places around the state and on the west coast and the northeast,” she said.

Seaton said the existing infrastructure in and around Homer also helps make this location attractive to researchers or companies.

Holderied said the existing data about Kachemak Bay concerning the shape of the bottom, the currents and the habitat also is a draw.

“So if you want to come and you want to develop something, you already have all this information,” she said.

Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.
Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

She said the education component is key, too. After the Homer City Council appropriated a $100,000 reimbursable grant for the project, the city basically “hired” a group of UAA students and their professor to create a 35 percent design for the project. This will be used as part of the requirements for their engineering degrees. They were in Homer early last year to tour the dock and give a presentation at City Hall.

“This whole concept of bringing bright, excited minds to this challenge and creating something that does not exist now, you saw it when those students were in this room,” Holderied said.

Seaton said the group has enough information at this point to start seeking out developers to help gauge interest in the project. That includes the ability to show how fish interact with the devices.

“One of the biggest problems that we’re going to have, and you can’t do it in the Upper Inlet and you can’t do it in these muddy rivers, is see how whatever device is tapping the energy interacts with salmon,” he said.

He said without that information there’s no way to move forward with the project.

Ariel Van Cleave is a reporter for KSTK in Wrangell.

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