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Posts Tagged ‘FERC’

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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photo: FERC

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is one of those acronym agencies that regulates a key aspect of the United States economy – the electricity grid – but tends to operate under the radar.

Not any more. With President Barack Obama’s appointment of FERC Comissioner and renewable energy advocate Jon Wellinghoff as the agency’s acting chairman, FERC will play a key role in the administration’s efforts to digitize the nation’s aging analog power grid to promote solar and wind energy while creating green jobs. The largest chunk of the stimulus package devoted to renewable energy – some $54 billion – has been set aside for modernizing the grid.

At a Nov. 18 briefing on Capitol Hill, Wellinghoff showed that he’s been thinking extensively about how to upgrade the grid to connect renewable energy produced in remote areas to population centers on the coasts. “In the whole Midwest of this country there are virtually no high- voltage transmission lines,” he said, displaying Google’s  (GOOG) proposal to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels by 2030.  “If you overlay where the wind is, all the wind is in the middle of this country – all those areas where we do not have sufficient transmission. Hopefully we can get the structure to put renewables on the grid and improve the grid to make it a smart system that can ultimately deliver these resources in an efficient way.”

Wellinghoff in a December interview with EnergyWashington.com advocated reviving domestic manufacturing of big transformers – now made overseas – to support the expansion of high-voltage power lines across the U.S.

On Monday, Wellinghoff called for electric cars to be integrated into the electric grid, according to a report by Dow Jones. He said FERC could structure rates to pay car owners for returning electricity to the grid from their vehicle batteries to help balance the power supply as more solar, wind and other intermittent sources of energy come online.

At the November briefing, Wellinghoff called electric cars part of “the glue” that will hold a green grid together and said the federal government should consider giving automakers like General Moters (GM) and Ford (F) incentives to produce plug-in hybrids.

“To modernize the grid, we need to define our goals and define a national tranmission planning process,” he said. “Let’s do it. We just need to get it done.”

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