Oregon Public Broadcasting

Puget Sound tides may soon be generating power. A proposal for the world's first grid-connected tidal energy project received a federal license Thursday. The project has been almost eight years in the making.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District will install two underwater turbines near Washington's Whidbey Island. The turbines would stay underwater for up to five years, said Neil Neroutsos, spokesman for the utility. He said the utility expects a reliable stream of energy from the project.

"The beauty of tidal energy is that it's very predictable. We know when the tides are going in and when they're going out," Neroutsos said.

Watch:video of a crew putting tidal energy test equipment in Admiralty Inlet:

Researchers submerged a 'sea spider' to monitor the environmental impact of energy-generating turbines on the floor of Admiralty Inlet in 2011. (video by Ashley Ahearn)

The turbines will be at a depth of about 200 feet in Admiralty Inlet. At maximum output, the turbines could generate enough power for up to 200 homes, although Neroutsos said the main purpose of this pilot project is to test out the technology in Puget Sound.

Some have raised concerns that the tidal projects could harm marine life. Neroutsos said several studies from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission indicate that the turbines will not hurt marine life or the environment.

The utility expects the pilot project will be running by 2016.

This story originally appeared through the EarthFix public media collaboration.

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