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Monday, July 23, 2007

FERC Streamlining Permitting For Pilot Wave and Tidal Energy Projects

The United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced a proposal to shorten the permitting process for pilot ocean energy projects to as little as six months, according to a news release (pdf) from Finavera Renewable Energy, Inc..

Finavera Renewable Energy, Inc. is a wind and wave energy developer with pilot wave energy projects in the works in Oregon and Washington (see previous post) that will utilize their patented AquaBouy wave energy conversion device (click the image at right for an animation).

The proposal made by FERC is for projects five megawatts or less, removable or able to shut down on relatively short notice, located in waters that have no sensitive designations, and for the purpose of testing new hydro technologies or determining appropriate sites for ocean, wave and tidal energy projects.

To date, the regulatory process has been one of the primary hurdles to the commercialization of offshore wave energy. Trial projects have taken years to move through the permitting process, taking away valuable time in enacting a technology that shows great promise in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

“By proposing to reduce barriers in the permitting process for trial projects, the Commission is providing a framework for projects that fall within its jurisdiction, and for state-led initiatives as well,” Finavera Renewables CEO Jason Bak said. “FERC is providing a significant boost for the industry.”

As part of its proposal, FERC will convene a public hearing on licensing pilot projects in Portland, Oregon on Oct. 2, 2007.

“We look forward to the hearing in October and want to extend our thanks to the FERC commissioners and staff for the tremendous commitment they’ve shown to offshore wave energy development. This decision shows strong leadership in promoting a clean, environmentally friendly renewable energy source that has the potential to satisfy a significant portion of the total energy demand in the United States.”

Finavera recently began construction of their second generation wave energy conversion device, the AquaBuOY 2.0 wave energy converter. Fabrication of the device is being carried out at Oregon Iron Works in Portland, Oregon. Finavera plans to deploy the test buoy later this year off the Oregon coast (see previous post).

Finavera recently received a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) to explore a 100 MW wave energy project off the coast of Coos County, in southern Oregon (see previous post).

The company and it's now wholly owned subsidiary, AquaEnergy, have also been working for several years towards deployment of a pilot-scale (2 MW) wave energy park in Makah Bay off the northwestern tip of Washington state's Olympic Penninsula for several years (see previous post).

This sounds like good news to me. Without any buoy or turbines in the water, it is very difficult to both assess their performance and reliability in real-word conditions and to assess and study the potential environmental impacts of wave energy development. Streamlining permitting for small, pilot-scale projects will allow developers to get experience in the water while permitting agencies can gather data and real-world experience on the environmental impacts of wave energy buoys and tidal turbines.

Without this real-world experience, permitting agencies are largely relying on conjecture as to the impacts of the first proposed commercial-scale projects, which shouldn't put anyone at ease. The last thing the emerging wave or tidal energy industries need is the equivalent of an Altamont Pass on their hands, which is possible if commercial-scale projects are permitting without first studying the impacts of a few pilot-scale projects.

All in all, this is a good sign that the wave and tidal energy industries can move forward with proving both the reliability of their technology and it's environmentally benign nature.

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