MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, October 27, 2008
The California Public Utilities Commission rejected a Pacific Gas & Electric contract for wave energy, saying the utility was going to pay too much for a technology that’s still largely experimental.
Last December, PG&E said it would be the first utility in the nation to get energy from ocean waves after signing a power purchase agreement with Finavera Renewables, which planned to operate a “wave farm” about 21/2 miles off the coast of Eureka. The deal was for 2 megawatts of power starting in 2012.
But the California PUC this month nixed the deal, saying wave energy technology was “in a nascent stage” and that Finavera’s system was “not currently viable.” The commission noted that a prototype buoy deployed by Finavera off the Oregon coast in 2007 sank before its six week test period was concluded.
The CPUC, which oversees power deals and rate hikes from the state’s big utilities, also said the San Francisco utility was going to pay too high a price for the wave-energy contract. The financial terms of power deals are not released publicly.
“We respectfully disagree with the decision,” PG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Zerwer said. The utility will continue to pursue wave energy projects, she said, including through its Emerging Renewables Resource Program proposal that would fund two wave projects off the Mendocino County and Humboldt County coast that’s currently waiting PUC approval.
In a letter to the PUC, Brian Cherry, PG&E’s vice president of regulatory relations, said the rejection of the deal would have “a chilling effect on wave development in California.” The rejection will send wave companies to states other than California, he wrote.
Finavera Renewables, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said the decision puts California “out of step” with the policies of the federal government, other states and cities. CEO Jason Bak said Finavera would try to form a private wave-energy consortium to diversify the risk and attract more funding for wave-energy technology. He also said the company would now focus on its wind projects in Canada and Ireland.
A report released Monday suggested that wave energy has great potential to be a source of renewable power. While only about 10 megawatts of ocean power have been installed worldwide to date, a report by researcher Greentech Media and the nonprofit Prometheus Institute found that could grow to 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of power by 2015. In California, 1 megawatt of power is enough to provide electricity for 750 homes.
More than $4 billion will be invested in ocean-wave research and the construction of wave farms over the next six years, the report says.
Daniel Englander, co-author of that report, doesn’t see the CPUC decision as a death blow for wave energy projects. “PG&E picked the wrong company,” he said. “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.”
Still, he expects several companies will have production-ready ocean power systems capable of delivering 2 megawatts or more within five years.