NewEnergyNews: SOMETHIN’ HAPPENIN’ HERE 1 – CALIF REGULATORS REJECT WAVE ENERGY

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    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    SOMETHIN’ HAPPENIN’ HERE 1 – CALIF REGULATORS REJECT WAVE ENERGY

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That may not be the right question. Take hydrokinetic energy.

    Hydrokinetic energy, or energy derived from waves, tides and currents, has tremendous promise.


    Forecasting the Future of Ocean Power, a recent study from Greentech Media and the Prometheus Institute reported hydrokinetics will see investment of $500+ million/year and grow from its current 10 megawatts of installed capacity to 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) through 2015.

    An Emerging Renewables Resource Program (ERRP) proposal to fund two wave energy projects off the Mendocino County and Humboldt County coasts from major California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is currently awaiting approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulatory body that oversees the state’s public utilities.

    PG&E could be in for disappointment on that ERRP proposal, though, if CPUC’s most current decision on wave energy is any indication.

    CPUC just announced it is rejecting a proposed power purchase agreement (PPA) PG&E wanted to sign with wave energy producer Finavera Renewables.

    Despite the fact that Finavera is one of the most active wave energy developers in the world, CPUC says the technology is "nascent" and not “viable" and too expensive.

    Finavera says the move puts California in opposition to the federal government and other states that are writing regulations for hydrokinetic installations and preparing to open up leasing for commercial-scale pilot projects.

    PG&E responded to the CPUC rejection by declaring it will do serious harm to the development of hydrokinetic energy.

    One of the authors of the Greentech Media/Prometheus Institute study doesn’t think that’s right.

    Daniel Englander, co-author, Greentech Media/Prometheus Institute report: "PG&E picked the wrong company…Finavera isn't a bad company, it's just that their technology isn't at a stage where it's ready to deliver power commercially."

    Englander predicts several companies will have production-ready ocean energy systems with 2-or-more-megawatts of capacity by 2013.

    In fact, as reported October 8 (see FIRST WAVE FARM IN THE WORLD…), Pelamis already has a 2-to-3 megawatt installation working off the coast of Portugal with plans to build a 25-megawatt expansion.

    Does that make CPUC wrong? Not exactly. The problem with the Pelamis installation, as detailed in the earlier NewEnergyNews report, is that the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is questionable. The problem may simply be, however, the absence of economies of scale – which will continue to be absent if decisions like this one from the CPUC stand.

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    Neither. First came the government mandate, then the subsidy, then the poultry business.


    Another New Energy growth industry. (click to enlarge)

    State rejects PG&E contract for wave energy
    Matt Nauman, October 27, 2008 (San Jose Mercury News)

    WHO
    California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) (Jennifer Zerwer, spokeswoman and Brian Cherry, vice president of regulatory relations); Finavera Renewables (Jason Bak, CEO); Daniel Englander, co-author, Greentech Media/Prometheus Institute report

    WHAT
    CPUC denied its approval on a power purchase agreement (PPA) between PG&E and Finavera for energy derived from waves.

    Another New Energy international industry. (click to enlarge)

    WHEN
    - A Finavera test buoy sank off the coast of Oregon in 2007 before a 6-week trial was complete.
    - The PPA was written to go into effect in 2012.

    WHERE
    - The wave installation was to be – or will be – 2 and 1/2 miles off the coast of Eureka in Northern California.
    - PG&E is based in San Francisco.
    - Finavera Renewables is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

    WHY
    - Finavera Renewables’ AquaBuoys float on the ocean surface, capture the wave’s force to turn a turbine that generates electricity which is sent by an undersea cable to a substation on shore.
    - CPUC said wave-energy technology is "in a nascent stage" and Finavera's buoy is "not currently viable."
    - Though the terms of the PPA were not disclosed, CPUC stated that it made the cost of power to PG&E too high.
    - CPUC is charged with overseeing oversees power purchases and rate adjustments by California public utilities.
    - PG&E says it will pursue other wave energy purchases.
    - PG&E believes the CPUC decision will drive hydrokinetic energy developers to other states.
    - Finavera will seek financing through a consortium of private investors as well as turn its efforts to the development of wind projects in Canada and Ireland.

    Another New Energy industry that only economies of scale can make cost competitive. (click to enlarge)

    QUOTES
    - Jennifer Zerwer, spokeswoman, PG&E: "We respectfully disagree with the decision…"
    - Brian Cherry, vice president of regulatory relations, PG&E: "[This will have] a chilling effect on wave development in California."

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