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Home arrow Blog arrow 9/19/06- SAN FRANCISCO Tides around Golden Gate are potential energy source

9/19/06- SAN FRANCISCO Tides around Golden Gate are potential energy source PDF Print E-mail
Written by Cecilia M. Vega, Chronicle Staff Writer   
Tuesday, 19 September 2006
Giant turbines submerged in the choppy waters below the Golden Gate Bridge might one day generate enough alternative energy to provide power to nearly 40,000 San Francisco homes, city officials said Monday.

The idea may sound like science fiction, but it is a real proposal backed by city leaders who hope it will decrease the city's dependence on oil and make San Francisco a hub for tidal power experimentation.

Standing at Crissy Field with the iconic bridge as a backdrop, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal announced Monday that her department will spend $150,000 to study the plan to harness energy from tidal waves. Mayor Gavin Newsom also said a task force made up of environmental leaders, clean energy advocates and other experts will be formed to advise the city on the topic.

"We have an imperative to do this," Newsom said. "This is not insignificant. The imperative is global warming, the high cost of energy, the scarcity of resources."

Ultimately, city officials hope that turbines below the bridge will capture tidal energy from the powerful flow that circulates in and out of the mouth of the bay and generate as much as 38 megawatts of power, or enough to power 38,000 homes.

The tides at the Golden Gate offer one of the best locations on the western coast of North America to generate that power, according to a study released this summer by the Electric Power Research Institute and backed by the city's public utilities agency.

Further studies need to be done, however, to answer questions about where the turbines would actually be located, how big they would be, and the potential environmental impacts they would have on the bay and marine life.

Still, city officials say studies of tidal power in other areas show there's little chance of harm to fish and other sea life.

"We don't need seals going through turbines and coming out the other end," Newsom said.

Officials hope to have a pilot program in place by 2009, which they said could cost between $5 million and $7 million.

"It will be a reality here, assuming we can meet all the questions and challenges that are put up, which I believe we can," Leal said.

San Francisco isn't alone in exploring the potential for harnessing energy from tidal waves. A pilot project is under way on the East River in New York City, and similar plans also are being considered in Alaska, Washington state and Nova Scotia.

The idea got strong support in San Francisco three years ago when then-Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez won approval of a resolution calling for a tidal-energy project. He also campaigned on the proposal when he ran unsuccessfully against Newsom for mayor in 2003.

Now Newsom is throwing his full support behind the plan, despite the obstacles.

Submerging turbines below the bridge would require numerous federal and state regulatory approvals. It also has not yet been determined who would own the power generated from tides or who would pay to build and install the technology.

The city is in negotiations with a number of companies that could help run the turbines and cover the costs. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is among them, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city's Department of the Environment.

A Florida company called Golden Gate Energy, which already has obtained a federal license to bring the turbines to the bay, is not being taken seriously in the negotiations, Newsom said. Its license expires in 2008.

In addition to turbines below the Golden Gate, Newsom said he eventually would also like to see generators placed off the shores of Ocean Beach, where they could tap into wave power.

"It's real. It's not science fiction," Newsom said.

E-mail Cecilia M. Vega at .

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