The nation’s first tidal energy power plant may take shape in New York’s East River, under a pilot project recommended for approval last month by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”). In December 2010, Verdant Power applied for a license to install 30 underwater turbines between Roosevelt Island and Queens, which would enable tidal power to be sold over the national electric grid for the first time ever.
Tidal power represents an often-overlooked but growing renewable energy source, more predicable than wind or solar power, but often encumbered by high start-up costs. The strong, fluctuating currents in the East River – which is actually a tidal strait between the New York Harbor and the Long Island Sound – make this water body an ideal location for the generation of tidal energy. Verdant previously tested six tidal turbines in the proposed project location; they were used to power a Gristedes supermarket and a parking garage on Roosevelt Island.
The need for FERC licensing and other federal approvals triggered the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), requiring an analysis of the project’s significant, adverse environmental impacts. On May 3, FERC released an Environmental Assessment reporting no such impacts, thereby allowing the project to move forward without a more intensive Environmental Impact Statement. In particular, with respect to local fisheries, FERC based its Finding of No Significant Impact on its finding of only “minimal impacts on aquatic resources” from Verdant’s prior turbines, and on the company’s plans to conduct additional monitoring throughout the phase-in of its new plant. The results of this monitoring, however, could affect analysis under NEPA for future tidal projects.