PG&E Applies for Preliminary Tidal Energy Permits for Humboldt and Mendocino Coasts

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Posted by on March 08, 2007 at 00:16:24:

On 28 February, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced it has applied with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for two preliminary tidal energy permits offshore Mendocino and Humboldt County in Northern California. The permits will allow PG&E to maintain priority of application for license of a wave energy facility for three years while it studies the sites for the wave energy potential and possible economic and environmental impacts any future wave energy sites may pose.

PG&E is the latest public utility to apply for a preliminary tidal energy permit with FERC. In Oregon, California, and Washington public utilities and private companies have been exploring the possibilities of establishing wave energy in what is being called a new "gold rush". In addition to surveying the waves, potential wave energy suppliers and consultants have been canvassing local communities for possible support and opposition to their proposed sites. In California, representatives from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an energy consulting firm, have met with the Fort Bragg City Council on 14 August 2006 and with stakeholders in the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast region on 31 January to discuss tentative plans for the implementation of wave energy sites in the region.

Fishermen got a chance to voice their concerns during the 31 January meeting held at the Salmon Trollers Marketing Association hall. A primary concern was how intrusive potential sites are going to be to navigation and access to fishing grounds. Wave energy technology is still relatively new and there are a variety of competing designs and models existing (mostly in Europe and some in Australia) and in production. Some designs are as simple as buoys tethered to the ocean floor that generate energy by bobbing up and down with the waves while other designs are large snake-like structures that float on the surface and generate energy when ocean currents push its sections in opposite directions. The potential navigation hazard posed by the snake-like structures ("Pelamis snakes") is of paramount concern for fishermen who already have to contend with unpredictable seas. Other concerns include: the placement of the high voltage undersea cables, the use and sharing of port facilities, and the possible impact placement could have on fish habitat.

Environmental advocates worry about the possible impact the placement of underwater moorings and cables will have on habitat, but were enthusiastic about the possibility of a significant source of renewable energy. There is also the issue that wave energy facilities could create aesthetic problems, a serious issue for people or businesses with beachfront properties or ocean views. One thing all stakeholders could agree on was the need for a process to be established in the implementation of wave energy facilities so that the various interests could have a say.

Power companies are finding themselves under increased pressure to switch to the production of renewable energy sources. PG&E is currently producing 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources and it working towards reaching 20 percent by 2010. PG&Es recent application for preliminary tidal energy permits in Mendocino and Humboldt counties is part of this project to generate more renewable energy.

While wave energy operations could pose navigation hazards, affect habitats and deny access to fishing grounds, there are some potential benefits for fishermen. This is a renewable energy source that could act as replacement power when removing fish killing hydroelectric dams. It is a possible energy source, too, for coastal desalination facilities - which could be used to reduce diversions of important fish producing rivers. Finally, certain types of wave energy facilities could have a dual purpose, such as serving as breakwaters for small coastal ports.

The minutes from the 14 August 2006 Fort Bragg City Council Meeting are at: ci.fort-bragg.ca.us/pdf/CCM2006-08-14.pdf
The PG&E news release on the FERC application is at: www.pge.com/news/news_releases/q1_2007/070228.html
For a complete list of issued and pending Tidal Energy Permits issued by FERC throughout the country see www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/indus-act/tidal-energy-permits/permits.asp#skipnavsub
For an article on wave energy on the Oregon Coast see the 21 February Winston Ross article in the Eugene Register-Guard www.registerguard.com/news/2007/02/21/a1.wavenergy.0221.p1.php?section=cityregion and for an article on wave energy in Washington see the 23 February Jonathan Schwarzen article in the Seattle Times seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003585199_pud23m.html
For an article on PG&Es recent announcement see the 1 March Glenda Anderson article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat www1.pressdemocrat.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070301/NEWS/703010302&SearchID=73273734586465

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