Tide Power Sounds Great, Unless You’re A Fish

So, let’s say you’re a fish, and you’re just swimming along, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you get sucked into this thing:

I suspect that sea mammals wouldn’t like it very much either.

But, let’s say you’re a human, and you’ve been ravishing the planet at an alarming rate, polluting it to the point where it’s starting to fight back, and you come up with this idea for generating electricity without using fossil fuels, there’s no unsightly smoke stacks or scary-looking nuclear reactors, in fact most of the mechanisms for capturing the energy we need so badly are conveniently hidden beneath the sea, out of plain sight, unless of course you aren’t, in fact, a human, but, rather, you are, let’s say…

…a fish, or a seal, or a whale.

It’s incredibly tempting to get excited about tide power.

From The New York Times:

EASTPORT, Me. — The fearsome tides that sweep out from the easternmost shores of the United States have for more than 80 years teased engineers and presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who have dreamed of harnessing their force to make electricity.

And next week, a device that looks a bit like an eggbeater turned sideways will be lowered into the water here to catch the energy of the rushing water, spinning a generator that, come September, is scheduled to begin sending power to the grid.

But honestly, the production expected from these turbines isn’t really all that impressive:

The first turbine generator unit has a maximum output of 180 kilowatts, which would power about 30 homes. That is one-sixth the output of a typical wind turbine, although TidGen will turn more than a wind turbine, since the currents will push more consistently than wind.

The company plans to add two more turbine generators. If they survive, they are considering another stretch of water, where the current moves even faster, for an array that could hold up to 18 additional generator units.

When the whole project is done, projected for 2016, the array could power up to 1,500 homes, Mr. Sauer said.

1,500 homes?!

And, how much is this costing?

The Department of Energy has put up $10 million of the roughly $21 million in costs…

Oh, but Chris Sauer, the chief executive of the company building and eventually operating the facility, is quick to point out:

“Another advantage is, you don’t see a thing,” Mr. Sauer added, speaking to a criticism that has dogged many wind farms.

Which is all well and good, unless of course, as I’ve said, you’re…

…a fish.

It seems all too telling that, in a 1,029-word article, only 36 words mention possible negative impacts:

And officials will have to keep a careful eye on safety concerns, the chief issues being the turbine’s effect on sea life and the possibility that anything dragged by boats could be snagged on it.

I’m reminded of a post I wrote in October 2011, and, in particular, an exchange I had with a reader in the Comments that wrestled with this question of just how eco-friendly is any given solution if it benefits one species while, at the same time, it threatens other species.

The solution in that older post was solar, and the reader, understandably, objected to my suggestion, in the comment I posted just prior to hers, that we cover large unpopulated and largely unvisited, unscenic open spaces with solar panels.

I was thinking of, as one example, the deserts of the American southwest, but the reader was correct, many people do consider them scenic, and they are hardly unpopulated, with all manner of creatures and critters living there, who, despite the harsh conditions, have managed to evolve enough over millions of years in order to survive.

And yet, as I was driving through hundreds of miles of landscape just like this back in June — driving in my air-conditioned, gasoline-burning rental car — the thought still came to me that, in the face of global climate change and the greed, war, and destruction so seemingly inseparable from our ravenous pursuit of finite and rapidly-diminishing natural resources, perhaps the benefits of covering as much of that vast, sun-soaked place as possible with solar panels might outweigh the drawbacks.

Frankly, in the absence of some undiscovered renewable energy source that can truly, realistically replace fossil fuels without harming humans or other life forms on the planet, I’m really not sure about tide turbines that could threaten sea life, or solar farms that could threaten lizards and turkey vultures and such.

We can and should question how we got to this place and whose fault it is, but at some point we have to do something.

Like I said, I’m really not sure.

7 thoughts on “Tide Power Sounds Great, Unless You’re A Fish

  1. Well, your thoughts are, unfortunately, true. I, personally, have a very pessimistic outlook: we humans will go on destryoing our environment until it’s no longer supporting us. In that, I favour the Gaia hypothesis: that the earth itself and as a whole is a living organism and will survive, but not necessarily the human beings. And what can we do? We can’t go back to the Stone Age. And even Stone-Age people destroyed their environment – only to a lesser extent than we do ours.
    As to our behaviour: I like to think that I’m environmentally conscious and do my part to save energy, e.g. And what am I doing just now? Sitting here at my computer – which in no way is eesential to my existence – using up precious energy!
    Best regards from southern Texas,

    1. Wow, Pit, all due respect, that IS pessimistic!

      While I certainly understand how you’ve come to your feelings about this, for some reason, despite how dire global climate change appears to be, I still have hope.

      Maybe it’s what Gandalf called “a fool’s hope”, but if you’ve read your Lord of the Rings you’ll remember that hope did prevail!

      Also, funny that you should say this:

      And what can we do? We can’t go back to the Stone Age.

      I just finished watching the 2003-2009 version of the TV series Battlestar Galactica, which ends with a decision to do just that, despite how thoroughly dependent people had been on technology for thousands of years.

      And while my eyes rolled at this narrative, and my brain rushed to form all kinds of objections to the idea, I ultimately disliked my own cynicism and wanted to merely enjoy the notion, to soak in the lovely scenes of humans, at least temporarily, living in harmony with the planet.

      1. Maybe I need to watch that series, too. Thanks for mentioning it. And thanks for the upbeat note in your comment. Let’s hope your views will finally prevail and not mine. I agree, they’re very pessimistic – fatalistic even.

    1. Yes, it IS too soon, and in keeping with the comment I just posted above this, I will hold out hope that the environmental protection laws in place, however weakened they’ve become over the years, will require safety guards to protect wildlife from these tidal turbines.

  2. As someone who has been campaigning in one way or another about Global Warming for nearly 40 years.. we HAVE to act soon. We really have no choice if we want to cintinue to live on this planet. It seems brutally obvious to me that solar energy is the way to go…so why don’t we? Easy! The world is controlled by huge corporations, many of them tied to the oil industry. The technology is already there to make solar panels thinner and lighter and they should, in my opinion, be on every roof of every house everywhere.. and in solar farms too. Do we preserve miles and miles of desert for the few who can afford to go visit them or do we concern ourselves with the whole world and how we help it, and us, to survive?

    1. Hi Helen,
      And what if we combined solar energy and hydrogen as a fuel? To my mind, that would be a nearly ideal solution. I keep wondering why the oil-rich states in the Near East are not onto it. They know that their resouorces are dwindling and that some time they will run out of oil and – therefore – out of revenue. With their deserts they’d have an ideal spot for big solar farms and as they’re close to water, they could use solar energy to produce hydrogen more than easily.
      Best regards,

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