The first wave energy power plant has yet to be built off the California coast but a skirmish over who will control the seas has already broken out in Washington between utility PG&E and the city of San Francisco. Last February, PG&E (PCG) filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, for preliminary permits to develop two 40-megawatt wave farms off the Northern California coast. Now the city of San Francisco – PG&E’s hometown – has asked FERC to deny the utility the wave energy permits. "While specifically not referring to this application, San Francisco believes the risk of sparking a ‘gold rush’ by ill prepared applicants with ill-conceived projects is too high and the drain on Commission resources in reviewing such applications would be too great," wrote San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Stephen A. S. Morrison in June 15 letter. Preliminary permits such as those PG&E are seeking give the holder three years to conduct a feasiblity study for a wave farm and then first dibs on obtaining a license for any resulting project. San Francisco, which Morrison stressed "is keenly interested in supporting the development of
local, clean, renewable energy, such as that anticipated in the
PG&E projects," fears that companies will "site bank," or lock up choice wave energy spots.
FERC is currently considering whether to change its wave energy permitting process. San Francisco supports scuttling the preliminary permit process and allowing all applicants to apply once they have a project ready for licensing. PG&E, on the other hand, believes the way to discourage site banking is to apply "strict scrutiny" to preliminary permit applications to ensure only legitimate projects proceed. "PG&E does not think FERC should prematurely reject pending new technology preliminary permit applications," wrote PG&E attorney Annette Faraglia.
So far San Francisco has not made any moves to oppose a proposed Chevron (CVX) wave farm that would be located adjacent to PG&E’s project off Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. The city and PG&E have long had a contentious relationship. Even as the two are currently cooperating on exploring the possibility of developing tidal power in San Francisco Bay, the city is considering dumping PG&E as its power provider in favor of securing its electricity elsewhere.
Some more details of the PG&E wave farms have emerged from federal filings. The utility is considering a number of wave energy technologies but currently anticipates that there will be between eight and 200 wave generators at each wave farm. PG&E plans to deploy and test several different types of wave generators at each site. But there will be numerous environmental hurdles to overcome before such projects can be built. In a letter to FERC, an Interior Department official said that PG&E’s Humboldt County project could affect at least three protected ocean-going bird species: the California brown pelican, the marbled murrelet and short-tailed albatross.