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Monday, October 30, 2006

News From My Backyard: Washington Wave Energy Pilot Project Completes Environmental Review

[From Renewable Energy]

The Makah Bay Offshore Wave Energy Pilot Project recently completed the Preliminary Draft Environmental Assessment (PDEA) process. The project, which is being developed through Finavera Renewables' wave energy division and subsidiary AquaEnergy Group Ltd., is expected to deliver 1,500 megawatt hours annually to the Clallam County Public Utility's grid in Washington state by the end of 2006.

The PDEA, completed by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) qualified assessor, concluded the project would have "no significant environmental effects" on the oceanographic, geophysical and biological conditions of the Makah Bay.

"The successful installation of the proposed offshore energy power plant will herald the beginning of a new renewable energy industry sector, bringing ocean energy one step closer towards generation of clean, competitively priced electricity to commercial and residential consumers in Washington state and other coastal U.S. states," said Alla Weinstein, CEO AquaEnergy and the first President of the European Ocean Energy Association.

The AquaEnergy offshore plant consists of patented wave energy converters, AquaBuOYs, based on heaving-buoy point absorber and hose-pump technologies. The mechanical portion of the Makah Bay pilot power plant will consist of four low-profile moored buoys placed 3.2 nautical miles offshore in water depths of 150-250 feet, to transform wave energy into usable electrical energy.

Since the project inception in 2001, AquaEnergy conducted meetings with environmental groups, fisherman's associations, and commercial and recreational users of Makah Bay. A consortium formed for the project includes the Makah Indian Nation, Clallam County Public Utility District (PUD), Washington State University, Bonneville Power Administration through the Northwest Energy Innovation Center, and the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

"The Makah Tribe has interest in using energy derived from renewable resources. The Makah Nation chose to partner in this project due to the environmental integrity and low impact of AquaEnergy's offshore buoy technology," said Ben Johnson Jr., Makah Tribal Council Chairman.

Several other projects in California and Oregon may soon be converting the ocean's energy into electricity as well. In San Francisco, California, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently announced the city will explore the possibility of generating power from the tidal flow under the Golden Gate Bridge.

In late September, the City of San Francisco launched a $150,000 feasibility study to examine the tidal energy project, which could generate up to 35 megawatts (MW) of power, according to the Electric Power Research Institute and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The feasibility study should be completed in late 2007 or early 2008.

The Oregon wave energy project is further along, as Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has already received a preliminary permit from the FERC to develop a project off the coast of Reedsport, which is southwest of Eugene.

When OPT applied for the permit in July, the company said it initially plans to install a 2-megawatt (MW) wave power project about 2.5 miles off the coast, where the ocean depth is about 55 yards. OPT plans to eventually scale-up the plant to 50 MW.

[Update: 11/13/06] The Makah Bay wave energy demo project has now formally entered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's licensing process, according to a November 3rd announcement from AquaEnergy group (as reported in the 11/13/06 edition of Clearing Up energy newsletter.

AquaEnergy's application will be considered under FERC's alternative licensing process, or ALP, which includes prefiling consultation and environmental reviews under the National Environmental Protection Act. This is the first wave energy project to take the ALP path. AquaEnergy reportedly eschewed the traditional FERC licensing process, which could take several years, as well as a preliminary permit which would only serve as a 'placeholder conferring no particular advantage to the company. The ALP path could be completed within a couple of years, and the plant could be built in 12 to 18 months, AquaEnergy's CEO, Alla Weinstein told Clearing Up.

Along with the license application, AquaEnergy filed the PDEA discussed in the post above.

According to Clearing Up, Clallum County PUD has agreed (back in 2003) to purchase power from the Makah Bay wave energy plant at 4 cents per kilowatt-hour over three years. That low price - competitive with current prices for coal and wind generation - indicates that either AquaEnergy's AquaBuOY device can already generate electricity at competitive rate, or that AquaEnergy plans to take a loss, or seek other sources of subsidies and revenue, for this first wave energy project.

Ocean energy - wave and tidal power - keeps gathering more and more momentum on the West Coast these days. There seems to be consitent press coverage of something ocean energy-related each week.

The Makah Bay project has been in the works the longest of the proposed North American wave energy facilities and looks to be the first to get in the water and hooked up to the grid as well. It will be invaluable to have a project on the West Coast in the water to generate some experience and real data on environmental impacts, ocean conditions, operating experience, etc.

The Ocean Power Technologies Reedsport project in Oregon looks to be following a bit behind the Makah Bay project and OPT has plans to expand their initial 2 MW project to a full commercial-scale 50 MW facility [see previous post].

I'll keep covering any new developments on these and other West Coast wave and tidal energy projects as they come up...

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