Archive for the ‘wave energy’ Category

three_in_row_hi_mediumWave farm developers must overcome more hurdles to get their projects approved under an agreement signed Thursday ending a feud between two federal agencies that warred over the regulation of offshore wind and wave farms.

A jurisdictional dispute between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had left in limbo a number of wave energy projects planned for the outer continental shelf, particularly applications from Grays Harbor Ocean Energy of Seattle to build half a dozen combined wave-and-wind farms from New Jersey to Hawaii. The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service had challenged FERC’s right to approve approve projects on the outer continental shelf. Last month the agencies agreed to end the water fight but offered few specifics on how offshore wind and wave farms would be regulated.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff signed an accord detailing how their agencies will deal with such projects. FERC will license the construction and operation of wave farms on the outer continental shelf but the Minerals Management Service will issue leases and rights-of-way for those projects. The Minerals Management Service also will be the sole agency to license wind and solar projects on the outer continental shelf.

Previously, a wave energy developer applied to FERC for a preliminary permit to explore the feasibility of a project in a particular stretch of ocean. As such permits award developers first rights to build a project in a given locale, there’s been something of an offshore land rush over the past couple of years to stake claims on the best sites. (The city of San Francisco and Grays Harbor Ocean Energy, for instance, are feuding over competing claims.)

Under Thursday’s agreement, FERC will no longer issue such preliminary permits for wave farms on the outer continental shelf and will not license any projects until developers first secure a lease or right-of-way from the Interior Department.

That should slow the land rush as developers will now be dealing with two federal agencies when it comes to floating their projects.

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Infighting among U.S. federal agencies over regulation of wind and wave energy development on the outer continental shelf ended Tuesday with an accord that gives the Department of the Interior oversight of offshore wind farms while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gets jurisdiction over wave and tidal projects.

While the deal brokered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and acting FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff will allow wind and wave projects to proceed, it’s still unclear what the impact will be on proposals to build combined offshore wind-and-wave farms.

As Green Wombat wrote earlier this month, a Seattle company called Grays Harbor Ocean Energy has filed applications with FERC to build such combo plants off several states. Among them, California, where the city of San Francisco is attempting to scuttle Grays’ proposed 100 megawatt project that would be located in a marine sanctuary in favor of its own 30 megawatt wave farm that would be built closer to shore.

Environmentalists, surfers and sailors also have objected to the Grays Harbor wave farm and the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service had challenged FERC’s right to approve combined wind-wave projects.

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San Francisco on Friday made a bid to rule the waves, filing an application to build a 30-megawatt wave energy farm off its coast in a move to sink a Seattle company’s claim on a nearby patch of ocean.

The company, Grays Harbor Ocean Energy, has filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, for wave projects to be built from New Jersey to Hawaii. Wave energy technology remains in its infancy but there’s been something of a land – or sea – rush to secure rights to the most promising ocean sites to produce clean green electricity.

Last October, Grays Harbor filed for a preliminary permit to test technology for a 100-megawatt wave park to be floated 20 to 25 miles off the San Francisco coast.  Grays’ San Francisco Ocean Energy Project “may also generate power from wind turbines” placed on the wave-energy converters, according to the company’s application.

So far the project has generated heated opposition from a coalition of environmental groups, surfers and commercial fishing organizations that have intervened in the case.  They argue that the wave farm’s location in federally protected marine sanctuaries near the Farallon Islands could harm endangered whales, turtles and seabirds as well as interfere with surfers, sailors and pose a navigation hazard for oil tankers and other ships.

“Wave energy projects raise many potential environmental concerns, including elevated hydrocarbon concentrations, electromagnetic field effects, interruption of migratory patterns, toxic releases from leaks or spills, impacts to sensitive spawning areas,” wrote the coalition, which includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a Jan. 26 letter to FERC.

The next day, the city of San Francisco moved to intervene in the Grays case, saying it would file a competing application. On Friday, the city did so, asking federal regulators to give priority to its Oceanside Wave Energy Project, arguing there’s only room for one wave farm off the San Francisco coast.

The city’s project would be located eight miles offshore, outside the marine sanctuaries. As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom – a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for 2010 – blogged about the municipal wave farm on Friday, the city filed an affidavit from its consultant stating that the Grays project would “impact the nature, quality and direction of the waves” to be used by the Oceanside wave energy plant.

It’s not the first time that San Francisco has tried to scuttle other wave projects. In June 2007, the city unsuccessfully petitioned FERC to deny utility PG&E’s (PCG) application for wave farms hundreds of miles up the coast from San Francisco, contending companies were trying to lock up choice sites.

Despite the rush to file claims, there’s no guarantee that any wave farm will be built. The preliminary permit that San Francisco has applied for would give it the ability to conduct a feasibility study and test wave energy technology with first rights to secure a license build a full-scale wave energy plant.

Although a range of wave technologies are being developed, they generally involve devices that float or are anchored to the seabed that that transform the motion of waves into mechanical energy which drives an electricty generating turbine. The electricity is transmitted through undersea cables to an onshore substation.

In its application, San Francisco said it was considering a number of technologies but anticipates floating between ten and 30 1-megawatt wave energy converters.  The city estimates it would spend between $1 million and $3 million on the feasibility study over the next three years.

San Francisco’s green scheme isn’t the only headache for Grays. Like the company’s other proposed wave energy projects, the San Francisco wave farm would sit on the outer continental shelf. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service claims jurisdiction over projects on the outer continental shelf and a fight has broken out between the agency and FERC over who gets to issue permits for OCS wave projects. On Jan. 26, the agency filed a challenge to FERC’s right to license eight of Grays wave farms that would also feature wind turbines.

Wrote Interior Department attorneys: “Some believe the preliminary permit application is part of an attempt to stake a claim to certain areas through the FERC process with the objective of siting wind energy projects, over which FERC does not claim jurisdiction, or then, according to press accounts, selling those rights.”

image: Pelamis Wave Power

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An offshore wave farm will supply Californians with clean green electricity generated by the ocean, under a first-of-its-kind power purchase agreement that utility PG&E will announce Tuesday morning.

The giant San Francisco-based utility has signed a long-term contract to buy 2-megawatts of electricity from Finavera Renewables’ wave-energy power plant, to be built off the Northern California coast. The Vancouver company intends to eventually expand the Humboldt County project into a 100-megawatt “wave park.” It is likely to be the first of a score of floating power stations dotting California’s 1,100-mile coastline in the coming years, judging by the stack of applications for such wave farms on file at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“This power purchase agreement is extremely significant and reflects the massive potential for wave power as a renewable source of energy in the future,” says PG&E spokesman Keely Wachs. Like the Golden State’s other big investor-owned utilities — Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) — PG&E (PCG) must obtain 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020.

“The California market is huge for wave energy,” Finavera CEO Jason Bak told Fortune’s Green Wombat. “This is the first power purchase agreement with a large utility, and we see this as being one of the key components to commercializing wave energy technology.”

The ocean as potential source of greenhouse gas-free power is tremendous: The energy locked up in the surf rolling toward the California coast is equivalent to some 37 gigawatts — enough to light nearly 30 million homes — according to PG&E. And unlike the sun and wind, waves can generate electricity 24/7. But the technology to tap all that water-borne power and deliver it at competitive prices remains in the start-up phase.

PG&E and Finavera would not disclose the terms of the power purchase agreement. But Bak acknowledged that the key challenge he and other wave-energy companies face is “advancing the technology to the stage where we have a near-commercial technology.”

Finavera plans to deploy strings of connected wave-energy converters that it calls AquaBuoys. As waves roll past an array of AquaBuoys connected to an onshore station by an undersea cable, two-stroke hose pumps convert their energy into pressurized seawater that drives electricity-generating turbines. According to filings Finavera has made with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a fully built-out 100 megawatt Humboldt wave farm would consist of 200 to 300 AquaBuoys floating on a two-square-mile site about two to three miles off the town of Trinidad. The initial phase of the project is expected to go online in 2012 and will use eight AquaBuoys.

While PG&E is merely dipping its corporate toe in the wave-energy waters with a relatively small 2-megawatt power purchase agreement, the deal with Finavera is likely to intensify efforts to stake claims on the best stretches of coast.

PG&E itself earlier this year unveiled its WaveConnect project to build two 40-megawatt wave farms, one off Humboldt and the other off the Mendocino County coast. Chevron (CVX) dived in last July with a plan for a Humboldt wave farm to be built by Scotland’s Ocean Power Delivery — now called Pelamis Wave Power — before abruptly pulling its application a month later.

Over the past two months there’s been a new flurry of applications. New Jersey’s Ocean Power Technologies (OPTT) in November filed for a FERC permit for a 20-megawatt “wave energy park” to be located off the Humboldt coast. And a newcomer to the wave energy business called GreenWave Energy Solutions has filed permit applications for wave farms off Mendocino and the Central Coast town of Moro Bay in San Luis Obispo County. (The Thousand Oaks, Calif., company lists a San Francisco attorney as its president and it was registered by a Southern California developer.)

Before Finavera can begin construction of the Humboldt wave farm, it must first spend two to three years completing environmental impact studies and negotiating with local, state and federal regulators. While obtaining financing for wave-energy projects using untried technology is difficult, Finavera will have one advantage over its competitors: a long-term power purchase agreement with one of the United States’ largest utilities.

“This PPA is a vote of confidence from PG&E that we can get the project done,” says Bak.

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