Excerpts from article by FRANK HARTZELL, The Mendocino Beacon, December 24, 2008
On January 13, 2009, from 5-7p.m. at Fort Bragg Town Hall, a “top official from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will appear to explain the agency’s strategy on developing what it calls “hydrokinetic” power as an alterative energy source.
Ann F. Miles, FERC’s director of the Division of Hydropower Licensing, will meet with county and city officials before attending the public meeting in Fort Bragg.
“The FISH Committee is looking forward to FERC’s visit, and welcomes the opportunity to learn about the different FERC licensing processes for wave energy, and how fishermen and other affected people can participate and have their voices heard,” said attorney Elizabeth Mitchell, who represents the Fisherman Involved for Safe Hydrokinetics.
Ocean waters off the Mendocino Coast, from Little River to Cleone, are now claimed under exclusive study permits by two different wave energy developers. GreenWave LLC claims 17 square miles of waters from Little River to Point Cabrillo, while PG&E claims 68 square miles from Point Cabrillo to Cleone.
Preliminary permits granted by FERC give not only exclusive study rights to the claimants, but also licensing priority to develop wave energy upon successful completion of the three-year studies.
Fort Bragg has become ground-zero for wave energy regulation. The federal Minerals Management Service, which is involved in an open feud with FERC over wave energy regulation, has sought to make Fort Bragg its test case.
FERC drew local ire by denying local efforts to intervene in the study process. At one point, protesters carried signs targeting the obscure federal agency with messages such as “Don’t FERC with us.”
One FERC insider said commissioners had complained that more fuss had been made in tiny Fort Bragg than the entire rest of the nation.
FERC later relented and on appeal granted intervener status to Mendocino County, for the PG&E project. The period to intervene and comment on GreenWave’s permit closes Friday, Feb. 6. As yet, nobody has filed anything with FERC, according to its Website.
“The commission’s existing procedures are well-established and well-suited to address this expansion of conventional hydropower with new technologies,” Miles told Congress last year, “and we are prepared to learn from experience in this rapidly evolving area and to make whatever regulatory adjustments are appropriate in order to help realize the potential of this renewable energy resource.”
FERC expanded its domain into all tidal, wave, river flow and ocean current study and licensing with its novel concept of a unified “hydrokinetic” regulation.
From the Yukon River in Alaska to the ocean currents off the Florida Keys, FERC has grown its regulatory territory dramatically since the start of the Bush administration. The agency is now explaining how dam regulation and wave energy innovation can go together. FERC recently granted the first hydrokinetic plant permit for production of energy in the Mississippi River in the state of Minnesota.
The independent agency has moved quickly with Neo-Con era disdain for regulation, eschewing calls from fellow federal and state agencies for a conventional rulemaking process. Instead FERC has adjusted its process as it goes along.
In her presentation to Congress, Miles focused on wave energy, not the more prevalent river current energy plans. She said wave energy projects will likely occur close to shore, not far out in federal waters.
“The cumulative costs of development … make it advantageous to locate projects nearer to the shore,” Miles told Congress.
Locals have complained that FERC has no intelligible process for public input. Governments and critics of FERC have been frustrated in efforts to get details.
FERC is a uniquely independent federal agency. It is under the Department of Energy but does not report to DOE, a structure that was created during the Great Depression. The president appoints FERC commissioners.