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Currents

An Energy Newsletter for Local Governments

Exploration of Tidal Power for San Francisco at the Golden Gate

Mayor Gavin Newsom announced in September that the City would formally explore the possibility of generating clean energy through the power of the tides at the Golden Gate with a $150,000, twelve to eighteen-month feasibility study to be conducted by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), working with the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE). Mayor Newsom also announced his intention to convene a Tidal Power Advisory Group of clean energy advocates, technical experts, environmental leaders and Bay Area regional and local government representatives to inform and advise the City’s study of tidal power.

The SFPUC has set aside $150,000 in Fiscal Year 06-07 to study the range of potential issues, challenges and opportunities with tidal power at the Golden Gate, including regulatory, technological, environmental, financial and other issues. An earlier preliminary study supported by the SFPUC and conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found that the tidal energy at the Golden Gate may offer one of the most ideal locations on the western coast of North America to generate tidal power of up to 35 megawatts at peak, or enough energy to power 10,000 homes. That earlier study did not thoroughly address, however, the specific details or location of a tidal power project at the Golden Gate, best apparent technologies, potential environmental impacts on the Bay and aquatic life and the regulatory process required to permit and operate the nation’s first-ever tidal power project on the Pacific coast.

“The potential to light our City through the power of the tides at the Golden Gate clearly inspires and commands our attention, but in a world of rapidly-diminishing fossil fuels, it also demands serious action to determine if we can make the possibility of tidal power a reality,” said Mayor Newsom. “This next phase of serious study and the counsel of experts from around the region and the world will help us make the best decisions about whether and how to pursue the promise of tidal power.”

“We know the potential is there,” said SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal. “This next phase of study will look at all the issues to help us determine if it’s truly feasible. It is imperative that we explore every potential option to generate renewable power.”

Currently, tidal energy projects are being explored in several locations throughout the world, including on the East River in New York City, where a small-scale pilot project is under construction. Other projects are under investigation in Alaska, Oregon, Washington State and Nova Scotia.

“The promise of tidal power has the interest of cities around the world, but once again San Francisco is showing clean energy leadership,” said San Francisco Department of the Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. “We intend to tap the expertise of the best and the brightest to determine how best to proceed with tidal power at the Golden Gate.”

While existing tidal power plants include a 240 MW plant in France, a 20 MW plant in Nova Scotia and a .5 MW plant in Russia, these plants use dams to impound tidal waters before releasing them through generators to convert the potential energy of the elevated water to electricity, similar to conventional hydroelectric plants. The tidal power under investigation at the Golden Gate would not use dams or require impoundment of waters, however, but would instead use turbines placed underneath the moving waters to harness the kinetic energy of the surging tides. 

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