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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2011

Awakened this morning to a tsunami warning phone call on the landline from Sargent Barney warning of an impending tsunami to occur in just over half an hour at 7:23 a.m. He continued that it was due to a 9.0 earthquake in Japan hours earlier. Our coastal community is urgently called to prepare for a tsunami. At risk situations are at land elevations of 150 ft and below, especially low lying areas at & near river mouths here on the coast of northern California. The reverse-911 tsunami warning phone call suggested everyone go to higher ground immediately and it was 6:55am.

First action was to call a close neighbor without a land line suggesting we meet at our highest ground probably between 250-300 feet. Packing stuff I needed, making a pot of coffee, I am writing this post right now and it’s 9:17am.

I packed my car, went to highest ground here as suggested. Around 9am, a friend called to say the tsunami had been downgraded. The tsunami has passed (or so I believe right now). It was an excellent exercise.

Realized long after the early morning reverse-911 warning that the tsunami sirens were not sounded here on the coast.

A friend mentioned that a tsunami drill had been scheduled for March 11, not sure of the time.

Redheaded Blackbelt also has tsunami updates for Humboldt county ~ http://bit.ly/hspXcz

10:20 am: Here’s the NOAA Tsunami report ~

SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE EUREKA CA
1020 AM PST FRI MAR 11 2011
REDWOOD COAST-MENDOCINO COAST-
1020 AM PST FRI MAR 11 2011

...A TSUNAMI WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR DEL NORTE...HUMBOLDT
AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES COASTAL AREAS...

EARTHQUAKE DATA...
 PRELIMINARY MAGNITUDE 8.9.
 LOCATION 38.2 NORTH 142.5 EAST.
 NEAR EAST COAST OF HONSHU JAPAN.
 TIME 2146 PST MAR 10 2011.

A TSUNAMI WAS GENERATED AND HAS CAUSE DAMAGED ALONG THE DEL NORTE
COUNTY AND DAMAGE ALONG THE HUMBOLDT AND MENDOCINO COASTS IS
STILL EXPECTED. PERSONS AT THE COAST SHOULD BE ALERT TO
INSTRUCTIONS FROM LOCAL EMERGENCY OFFICIALS.

DAMAGING WAVES HAVE BEEN OBSERVED ACROSS HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
DAMAGING WAVES HAVE ARRIVED AT CRESCENT CITY HARBOR WHERE ALL
DOCKS HAVE BEEN DESTROYED. WAVES HAVE BROKEN OVER THE SPIT AT
STONE LAGOON. A 3 FOOT WAVE HAS BEEN REPORTED IN HUMBOLDT BAY. A
2-4 FOOT FLOOD WAVE WAS REPORTED MOVING UP THE MAD RIVER AT 8:45
AM PST. DAMAGING WAVES WILL CONTINUE FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL HOURS.

MEASUREMENTS OR REPORTS OF TSUNAMI WAVE ACTIVITY
GAUGE LOCATION        TIME      AMPLITUDE
CRESCENT CITY CA     844 AM       8.1FT
NORTH SPIT HUMBOLDT  830 AM       3.1FT
ARENA COVE           917 AM       5.3FT

REMEMBER...DONT BE FOOLED...TSUNAMI WAVES CAN SEEM STOP FOR LONG
PERIODS AND THEN BEGIN AGAIN. WAIT FOR THE OFFICIAL ALL CLEAR TO
RETURN TO THREATENED AREAS.

IN DEL NORTE COUNTY...PEOPLE ARE ORDERED TO EVACUATE TO ABOVE 9TH
STREET. SHELTER LOCATIONS INCLUDE SMITH RIVER ELEMENTARY...DEL NORTE
HIGH SCHOOL AND YUROK TRIBAL OFFICE IN KLAMATH.

IN HUMBOLDT AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES...PEOPLE ARE ADVISED TO STAY
OFF BEACHES...NOT TRAVEL BY WATERCRAFT AND EVACUATE LOW LYING
COASTAL AREAS IMMEDIATELY UNTIL ADVISED THAT IT IS SAFE TO RETURN.

PEOPLE SHOULD STAY CLEAR OF LOW LYING AREAS ALONG COASTAL RIVERS AS
TSUNAMI WAVES CAN TRAVEL UP FROM THE MOUTH OF COASTAL RIVERS.

BULLETINS WILL BE ISSUED HOURLY OR SOONER IF CONDITIONS WARRANT
TO KEEP YOU INFORMED OF THE PROGRESS OF THIS EVENT. IF AVAILABLE...
REFER TO THE INTERNET SITE HTTP://TSUNAMI.GOV FOR MORE INFORMATION.

DUE TO RAPIDLY CHANGING CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH TSUNAMI WAVE
ACTIVITY...LISTENERS ARE URGED TO TUNE TO LOCAL EMERGENCY ALERT
SYSTEM MEDIA FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION ISSUED BY LOCAL DISASTER
PREPAREDNESS AUTHORITIES. THEY WILL PROVIDE DETAILS ON THE
EVACUATION OF LOW-LYING AREAS...IF NECESSARY...AND WHEN IT IS SAFE
TO RETURN AFTER THE TSUNAMI HAS PASSED.
****************************************

It’s 4:44 pm March 11, 2011: Receive the reverse-911 phone call ‘canceling the tsunami warning’ on the coast.

****************************************

4:50pm March 11, 2011: Governor Brown “has ordered San Mateo, Del Norte, Humboldt and Santa Cruz counties to utilize state aid in handling local emergencies, and repairing “damage to ports, harbors and infrastructure” caused by the tsunami. ~ http://bit.ly/fQxMIl

March 15, 2011: Mendocino Town Seeks Aid for $4M Tsunami Damage ~ http://bit.ly/gWy090

Videos of today’s Japanese tsunami and the 8.9 earthquake ~

Video taken near Crescent City, CA morning of March 11, 2011 ~

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Editor’s Note: Since January 1, 2010, we have been working on the Kent State Truth Tribunal, please go to www.TruthTribunal.org to learn more about our efforts to reveal the truth at Kent State in 2010. Thanks!

laurelnallison2On May 4, 2009 I participated in the 39th Annual Kent State University Memorial and gave this talk:

My name is Laurie Krause. I am the sister of Allison Krause, the daughter of Arthur and Doris Krause.

I want to thank you for gathering together today. It’s an honor to be here at Kent State University to participate. I’d also like to thank the student body and May 4th Task Force for inviting me.

I am here to honor people who follow their truths, to respect people who live their ideals, and to focus on the healing of Kent State and our community at large.

39 years ago today, my sister, Allison Krause, was murdered by the Ohio National Guard for protesting and demonstrating against the Vietnam War. Also killed were Jeffrey, Sandra and William, and nine other Kent State students were seriously injured. I’m pleased to see a number of the surviving protesters here today, thank you for being here.

Allison was a freshman at Kent State who was incredibly passionate about life. She was a peace-loving, confident, altruistic, honor-student wanting to get the most out of college, and she was also deeply in love with her boyfriend, Barry.

As my older sister, Allison was someone I looked up to. She was so creative. I still look up to her and continue to be inspired that the whole world may be changed by any real person, like you or me, walking forward with hope and living our ideals and truths.

Let me ask you, today, are you living your truth?

Allison vehemently disagreed with the US government and its involvement in Vietnam so she assembled with many others and protested on Friday, the first of May, not knowing that she was putting her life in jeopardy, yet feeling strongly that the actions committed by our government were wrong.

On that day, a group of 500 students assembled to protest the US invasion of Cambodia. Rallies were planned for Monday to continue protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War.

The Ohio National Guard was sent in on Saturday and Kent State became a war zone overnight. Students were tear gassed and wounded by bayonets during demonstrations taking place over the weekend.

The ROTC building was burned down in retaliation for the students being attacked for expressing their right to protest and assemble.

Press conferences held by Gov. Rhodes called protesters un-American. Rhodes declared a state of emergency, banned any further demonstrations and imposed martial law at Kent. Curfews were set. Students had to run from Guardsmen on campus late at night and Allison ran from them that night. Students couldn’t return to their dorm rooms and were stuck wherever they could find shelter for the night.

Over the following days, the Kent State University campus ignited into one of our country’s worst nightmares.

As tensions heightened over the weekend, Allison called home to my parents to let them know what was happening on campus. My father told Allison to be cautious; he even asked her to back down and not involve herself.

My parents, like most parents, were coming from a place of love for their daughter. They wanted her to be safe.

But Allison was aware of the risks involved. Still, she never considered not protesting against something she was incredibly passionate about. The Vietnam War had just taken a turn for the worse, it was a time when hope for peace was fading.

To Allison, it was an obligation to show dissension to the government invading Cambodia. She made her decision, and we all know the outcome.

That Monday, despite school officials attempting to ban the demonstration by sending out leaflets, more than 2,000 people arrived to protest the government’s actions.

The dispel process began that morning with leaders telling student protestors to go home or be arrested. Students responded to these infringements of rights by throwing rocks. Wearing gas masks, the National Guard used tear gas to exert control over the growing crowds.

After some time with a lot of maneuvering Guardsmen turned in unison and took aim.

The shooting lasted 13 seconds.

Dumdum bullets were used – a type of bullet that’s illegal in warfare – and explodes on impact.

My sister died in Barry’s arms.

Allison’s death symbolizes the importance of our right to protest and speak our truths freely.

The day after the shooting, my father Arthur Krause spoke on television, telling the public how Allison’s death shall not be in vain.

Afterwards, my parents followed their truth through the legal system and in the courts over the next nine years. They sought the truth about Kent State and the reason for the murder of their daughter … going all the way to the US Supreme Court. Their final appeal was settled and the federal government issued a statement of regret.

It’s no secret that my family holds Nixon, Rhodes and the State of Ohio responsible.

Also, with the recently re-discovered audio tape, proof of an order to shoot has been found.

We now know that our government intentionally committed this deadly act against the youth of 1970, calling them ‘bums’ as they protested the Cambodian Invasion.

Triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State. What happened was malicious, what happened was irresponsible, what happened was evil.

The shooting was at best, without any forethought, and at worst, with total forethought. Firing on a group of unarmed students, who were simply exercising their First Amendment rights to express dissent with their government was a crime.

What do we do with an order to shoot? What can you do when the government gives permission to use ultimate force, to use deadly force, against its dissenters?

It was the government’s goal to make a defining statement and shut down student protest across the country that day…and they did…for years!

There is no such thing as a true democracy when this happens.

The local, state and federal governments never accepted responsibility for the murder of Allison, Jeffrey, Sandra and William and the injuries sustained by nine others that occurred 39 years ago today.

The people injured in the protests are reminded of it everyday.

The Kent State shooting has changed all of our lives forever, both on the inside and the outside. My family lost its eldest child and were robbed from seeing her blossom in her life past 19 years. I lost my only sister and I miss her each day.

Looking back, did the Kent State protest and killings make a difference?

Well, there was a huge response by Americans.

The Kent State shooting single-handedly created the only nationwide student strike with over 8 million students from high schools to universities speaking out and holding rallies afterward.

And Jackson State also culminated in murderous acts in a similar quest to silence student protest.

We became a nation at war with itself.

But how did we let it get that far? How did this happen?

People will never forget that day at Kent State. Today marks an event that still hits deep for so many of us.

People who were directly involved, people who believe in the Bill of Rights and the freedom to disagree with the government, people who continue to share a vision of harmony and peace for all. We’re all active participants; we are all involved in what happened.

Today is about remembrance, honor, respect and a focal point for a change in the way we handle dissension with governmental actions.

What have we learned? What can we take away from this horrible event?

For starters, we must each take responsibility for what happened so we may learn from the past, to learn from our mistakes.

First, I’m interested in learning more about the re-discovered audio recording from a student’s window ledge during the actual shooting. With new recording and audio technologies, we have revealed that ‘order to shoot.’

The order to shoot has always been a concern. In fact, each and every governmental or military official throughout the legal battle has stated under oath that there was never an order to shoot.

However, I do not accept their words and I ultimately believe they perjured themselves. There is no way the National Guard could march uphill away from the crowd – to turn in unison after reaching the top, and to shoot into the crowd – without premeditated forethought. Their bullets murdered students from over a football field away. There is no way this could ever be accomplished without an order to shoot.  (Click to hear tape.)

Now with this re-discovered tape recording, we finally have proof that an order to shoot was given.

With this tape, it is very much my belief that until the truth is brought to light here, the Kent State Killings will continue to remain an ugly, unknown, unaccounted-for wound.

Case in point, just a little over a week ago Kent State students had another brush with aggressive police action during College Fest, a block party where 60 people were arrested and rubber bullets were shot into the crowd for ‘crowd control.’

People were shot for no reason, arrested for not disbanding, and fires started in the streets.

At an event with no political subtext, we can see how much kindling there already is, waiting for a spark to ignite an explosion of extreme violence. It’s still there!

We’re still seeing the same tension of the Kent State shooting that happened 39 years ago, today. The cause and effect is still active here at Kent State.

Unless we heal these wounds, they shall continue festering.

Instead of focusing on our differences, let’s focus on what brings us together.

Right now, at this point in time, it is critically important that we work together in harmony to benefit all.

We can’t perpetuate this us/them polarization of constant reaction to what’s happening around us anymore. I mean, how’s that working for us? Is that working?

So, how do you heal a community, a nation? Or should I ask, how do we heal ourselves?

Each day as we live our truths, our intentions capture a healing, beautiful, peaceful essence for positive change.

Despite harsh criticism by local residents, even by her own president, Allison and others continued on.

Allison believed in making a difference. Being anti-war and pro-peace and harmony, she was called to action. Although it was not her clear intention, Allison spoke, participated in and died for what she believed in.

The spirit of Allison asks “What are we but what we stand for?”

Don’t hope for a new tomorrow, live it today and live your truth each day. We all make a difference by speaking our truths against all odds.

Through-out my life I looked to my big sister for inspiration. Allison taught me the importance of living a life of intention and truth and I am now consciously and busily speaking my truths.

That is Allison’s message and it not just for me.

I want to close the speech by sharing with you how I have the spirit of Allison in my life as I live on the Northern California coast.

A few years ago under the Bush Administration, a major utility company and the federal government wanted to begin exploring wave energy renewable energy technologies in the Pacific Ocean near where I live.

As it progressed, the administration was very gung-ho on exploring wave technologies with a mentality of ‘throwing technology into the ocean and let’s see what happens!’

In March 2008, I marched for the Mendocino Wave Energy Moratorium, to be a voice for protecting the marine environment, to slow it down for proper environmental research to be conducted and to involve the community in this project.

In 2007 I also began publishing a blog called MendoCoastCurrent. I did this as my personal, political act and operate as the Wave Energy Blogger and an environmental activist now.

Allison showed me that it is my responsibility to live and speak my truth. If I do not agree with what’s happening, it is my right to protest, assemble and voice my concerns.

Since then I’ve encountered quite a few unforeseen obstacles and hostile harassment, yet I still believe that even in the face of opposing forces and arrest, I must fight my good fight…and keep on, keeping on! Allison whispers this in my ear.

Let’s stand up for what is right and best for all. We must protest against injustices and use our voices to speak out when we disagree with what’s happening.

On the Mendocino coast as all looked lost regarding the negative effects of wave energy with mounting environmental concerns regarding this nascent technology in our ocean, President Obama was inaugurated.

Obama and his administration bring us so much good news. They are approaching renewable energy technology from an environmentally-safe perspective along with incorporating community aims and input now. And that massive utility company is following suit.

Environmental concerns in creating safe renewable energy in my community may now be possible!

And I feel Allison smiling!

We must still remain ever vigilant yet I’ve found a great deal of hope and comfort in what I’ve seen these past one hundred days of Obama.

I’m hopeful that we may become more conscious of our use of our precious resources, in using and generating our electricity and in fueling our vehicles.

I’m hopeful that the truth about Kent State will someday be known.

As we learn to speak our truth, even in the face of danger and opposition, we bring change and harmony.

So I ask you…and I ask you for Allison as well…how are you speaking your truth today?

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DAN BACHER, IndyBay.org, September 1, 2010

In a great show of unity between Tribal members, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, the 33 members of the Regional Stakeholder Group for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative on August 31 adopted one unified proposal for marine protected areas (MPAs) stretching from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border.

The North Coast stakeholders were the first ever to develop a single consensus proposal under the controversial, privately funded process. In the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions, environmental NGOs and fishing groups supported separate proposals.

The proposal will be submitted to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for review at before their October 25-27 meeting at the Fortuna River Lodge. The final proposal will then go to the Fish and Game Commission for final approval at their meeting in Sacramento in December.

“Everyone talked about a unified community proposal at the beginning of the MLPA process, but I wasn’t expecting to pull it off,” said Adam Wagschal, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreational and Conservation District Conservation Director, in a news release from Cal Oceans, a coalition of three environmental NGOs. “Sure enough though, everyone came together and we did it. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Tribal representatives also applauded the adoption of a unified proposal that allows for traditional tribal fishing and gathering rights. The stakeholders meeting was preceded by a historic protest in Fort Bragg on July 21 where over 300 Tribal members from 50 Indian nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in defense of tribal fishing and gathering rights.

“There was significant progress by the stakeholders in coming together to create a unified proposal that protects tribal rights,” said Megan Rocha, Acting Self-Governance Officer of the Yurok Tribe. “The stakeholders did the best they could in respecting tribal gathering and fishing rights. Now this issue will go to the state of California and tribes to work it out at the next level.”

Rocha emphasized that every MPA proposal includes language to allow continued tribal uses in marine protected areas. In certain areas, the stakeholders also included language allowing for co-management between the tribes and the state.

Over the past few months, the initial set of MPA eight proposals was whittled down to four. The Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG), including Tribal leaders, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, harbormasters, divers, seaweed harvesters, business leaders and conservation representatives found enough common ground to develop one final proposal.

“The stakeholders took a strong position affirming tribal rights,” said Rocha. “It was unbelievable how committed the stakeholders were to making sure that tribal rights were respected. All of the tribes really appreciated that support.”

The proposal will result in about 13% of the North Coast region being restricted or closed to fishing and gathering, versus 16-20% in other regions of the state.

Representatives of conservation groups applauded the effort, despite some concerns that the plan may not fully meet the scientific guidelines laid out for the MLPA process.

“Everyone made sacrifices to get to this point,” said Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy’s North Coast Program Coordinator. “We started out with a number of significant differences regarding needs and desires, but ultimately our respect for each other and willingness to work together enabled us to develop a plan we can all send forward.”’

The plan includes three “State Marine Reserves,” zones completely closed to all fishing, just south of Cape Mendocino, about a mile offshore of the Mattole River and along an area west of Petrolia. Another MPA along Samoa allows for Dungeness crab, chinook salmon and smelt fishing. The MPAs include two areas to the south of Redding Rock, one allowing fishing and the other a no-take zone.

Recreational and commercial fishermen also praised the development of a single proposal.

“I’m happy that we came up with a single proposal,” Tim Klassen, captain of the Reel Steel charter boat out of Humboldt Bay, told the Eureka Times Standard on August 31, “and hopefully we’ll keep our fate in our own hands.”

Despite the adoption of a unified proposal for the North Coast, significant concerns about the overall MLPA process remain.

Fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists are concerned that the MLPA process under Schwarzenegger has taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table. The MLPA would do nothing to stop another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from devastating the California coast.

MLPA critics have also blasted the Governor for appointing an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and people with conflicts of interest on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces that develop the marine reserves.

Many are puzzled whey Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, is allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast.

Many fishermen and environmentalists are also concerned that a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is privatizing ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG.

Nonetheless, the development of a unified marine protected area (MLPA) proposal on the North Coast is a great victory for fishermen, Tribes, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists and other stakeholders in the MLPA process. Rather than being “divided and conquered” by the Schwarzenegger administration as has happened elsewhere in the MLPA study regions, they chose to work together and overcome their differences to develop a consensus proposal.

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Editor’s Note: In late December 2009, the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco vacated their home on the floating piers. This article may shed some light on what’s happening on the SF coast and the reasons for their leaving.  Like many others, we wonder where they went and for what reasons.

PETER FIMRITE, San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2009

By Bierstadt AlbertA humpback whale that suddenly rose out of the water and splashed down near the Farallon Islands provided a research vessel full of scientists with a surprising bonanza of research data.

“Whale poop!” shouted several researchers in unison, as biologists scrambled to collect the floating reddish specimens Saturday as part of a comprehensive study of the ocean’s ecology off the Northern California coast.

The color of the whale excrement meant that the huge creature had been feeding mostly on a tiny shrimp-like crustacean called krill instead of fish and anchovies, its preferred food in recent decades. It is a change in diet that several bird species at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge are unable to make, according to researchers in a joint ocean survey by the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and PRBO Conservation Science.

As a result, colonies of fish-eating cormorants, seagulls and murres failed to breed this year on the Farallon Islands. Over the past few months, dozens of dead birds and even sea lions have been found on local beaches.

Anchovies have disappeared, and scientists don’t know why. The researchers on the vessel believe that, in their absence, birds and mammals like humpback whales that eat krill are thriving while the ones that are eating only fish are in trouble, and the whale excrement served as evidence.

“We’ve had an extraordinary number of dead animals,” said Jan Roletto, the research coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “It seems to be that the animals that suffered the most were the animals that forage on anchovies.”

Brandt’s cormorants, a black bird with white plumes that can dive as deep as 300 feet for its prey, did not produce any chicks this year on the Farallones or on Alcatraz. That’s compared with 15,000 chicks in 2007.

Breeding fails

For the anchovy-loving bird, it was the first complete breeding failure in 40 years during a year without El Niño conditions so far, according to scientists at PRBO, formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Western gulls and common murres produced about one-seventh of the number of chicks they normally hatch. Researchers on the Farallones reported an increase in predation on the chicks that were produced, mainly because the parents were too far away looking for food.

Beachgoers probably noticed the death toll. Six to eight times the normal number of dead cormorants and sea lions were found on Bay Area beaches in May, June and July, according to researchers. The death toll in each case involves birds and marine mammals that prey on anchovies and other fish.

The deaths and breeding failures are all the more troubling because there appears to be plenty of krill, rockfish and other prey species to feed the seagoing birds and mammals.

Jaime Jahncke, the director of marine ecology for PRBO, said common murres had previous breeding failures in 1982-83 and in 1991-92, but both times the problems were linked to El Niño, a weather condition associated with warmer ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions that cause heavy storms. Although forecasters say an El Niño is forming in the tropics, it has not yet hit California, Jahncke said.

No explanation

“I don’t know what it means, but it’s not good,” Jahncke said. “There are a lot of changes happening, and none of them have a clear explanation.”

Seagoing birds and mammals near the Farallon Islands depend on krill, anchovies and other prey that are attracted to conditions produced when cold, deep ocean currents bounce off the underwater outcropping called the Cordell Bank, forcing nutrients upward. The nutrients are most abundant during the transition from winter to spring.

Spring arrives an average of 20 days earlier than it did in 1970, Jahncke said. There has also been an increase in the strength of the upwellings over the past two decades, he said.

Apart from the lack of anchovies, that is probably a good thing.

The team of scientists on the boat spotted several blue whales before the humpback put on its show.

The abundance of blue whales, which feed almost exclusively on krill, and the evidence provided by the humpback made it clear that there is plenty of krill in the ocean.

“Whales primarily over the last decade have been feeding on fish,” said Lisa Etherington, the research coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The last couple of years they’ve been feeding on krill. We don’t know why.”

Wild fluctuations

Jahncke said salmon smolt also feed on krill, a fact that may or may not help the beleaguered Central Coast chinook. The Cassin’s auklet, a small, chunky seabird that feeds on krill, had above-average nesting success this year.

But wild fluctuations are now almost normal, according to the researchers, who are concerned that the El Niño predicted for next year will cause a further decline in the numbers of birds.

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wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMendoCoastCurrent, February 14, 2009

Acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff recently published Facilitating Hydrokinetic Energy Development Through Regulatory Innovation

Consider it required reading as a backgrounder on US wave energy policy development, FERC’s position on the MMS in renewables and FERC’s perceived role as a government agency in renewable energy, specifically marine energy, development.

Missing from this key document are the environmental and socio-economic-geographic elements and the related approval process and regulations for:

  • environmental exposure, noting pre/during/post impact studies and mitigation elements at each and every marine energy location;
  • socio-economic factors at each and every marine location (including a community plan with local/state/federal levels of participation).

Approaching the marine renewable energy frontier with a gestalt view toward technology, policy and environmental concerns is a recommended path for safe exploration and development of new renewable energy solutions.  

It has been FERC’s position that energy regulatory measures and policies must precede before serious launch of US projects and other documents by Wellinghoff have noted a six month lead time for policy development alone.

MendoCoastCurrent sees all elements fast-tracked in tandem.  Environmental studies/impact statements are gathered as communities gear up to support the project(s) while technology and funding partners consider siting with best practices and cost-efficient deployment of safe marine energy generation.  All of these elements happen concurrently while FERC, DOI/MMS, DOE local and state governments explore, structure and build our required, new paradigm for safe and harmonious ocean energy policies.

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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DAVID EWENCHIEF, The Evening Express, February 11, 2009

images2The Aberdeenshire Council has pointed to tides – rather than wind turbines – as the best green solution to the energy crisis. The council took part in a consultation on the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill, which is going through Parliament, suggesting tide and current generation would be more reliable than wind turbines. “Wind cannot take up the slack. And we have a fair amount of coastline to play with,” a report said.

Aberdeenshire council suggested mini hydro-electric schemes on its rivers could also be more effective than wind turbines. Nearly 200 wind turbines have already been approved in the Northeast.

Mervyn Newberry, former chairman of the Skelmonae Windfarm Action Group, said he was not surprised at Aberdeenshire council’s sudden change of heart over the wind turbines. “It is completely expected,” he said. “The politicians just go with whatever is popular at the time. Though I am not as familiar with tidal energy, I am certainly more in favour of this form of energy because it doesn’t destroy the environment.”

Tarves, in Aberdeenshire, has been hit with a proposal for four wind turbines. Chairman of Tarves Community Council Bob Davidson claimed Aberdeenshire Council has been inconsistent in backing wind turbines. “I would not be surprised at inconsistency from the local authority,” he said.

Today Aberdeenshire Council boss Anne Robertson defended the use of wind turbines. She pointed out that tide technology has lagged behind wind-based technology in the North-east. Mrs Robertson stressed that the impact of wind turbines on the landscape was always considered. She said: “The wind turbine issue is one that has been dealt with through the planning process. “There have been quite a number of schemes turned down in Aberdeenshire.”

In its response to the bill consultation, Aberdeen City Council stressed the “importance of joint working” to reduce energy consumption. Wind turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay could supply all of the city’s houses with electricity.

Aberdeen-based Green Ocean Energy Ltd is developing a wave-based energy system to work alongside wind turbines. The Scottish Government rules on planning projects at sea.

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ROB DAVIS, VoiceOfSanDiego.org, February 8, 2009

images1With California’s water supplies crimped and cuts on the way, the idea of a new water source in San Diego is making politicians salivate.

The seawater desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Corp. is advertised as being able to tap into the Pacific Ocean, a drought-proof supply. Now the state sits in a drought. And with the project’s permitting nearly finished, state leaders are lining up in support — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Linda Adams, the state’s environmental protection secretary.

Their message to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the last agency to withhold needed permits: Enough already. Stop slowing down construction.

So the regional board, the local water pollution regulator, is being assailed from both proponents and opponents of the project. Environmental groups have sued the regional board for giving conditional approval to the desalination plant. And state leaders are flexing their political muscles, urging the board to go all the way.

“The political interest in this item is huge,” said John Robertus, the regional board’s executive officer. “And every day it doesn’t rain, it goes up a notch.”

The regional board in 2006 granted a necessary permit to Poseidon, which will allow it to discharge into the Pacific. But it came with conditions, including developing a specific plan for mitigating the plant’s impact on marine life. The agency’s staff proposes to continue withholding approval until Poseidon refines its mitigation plans. The discussion is scheduled Wednesday. Asked whether the agency is feeling political pressure, Robertus said: “Certainly. Water is about politics.”

The desalination plant has always had the region’s attention. But with mandatory water-use restrictions likely coming to Southern California this summer, the project has grabbed the attention of the governor and other state officials. The plant, which could begin operating in December 2011 at the earliest, would boost San Diego’s supply 10%. The project will set the precedent for other desalination efforts.

At least one will follow on the Carlsbad plant’s heels. Poseidon, a private Connecticut-based company, is seeking permits for a plant in Huntington Beach. But Carlsbad’s challenges were greater, and so it has pushed that project first. The regulatory examples set there will be followed in Huntington Beach and in any other seawater desalination plants.

“As goes Carlsbad, so goes the rest of the coast,” Robertus said. “This is a contentious issue. And it’s going to get more intense as we get closer to the date when they begin to pump water.”

At the center of the current debate is Poseidon’s plan to mitigate the plant’s impacts on marine life. It will suck in 304 million gallons of seawater daily and turn 50 million gallons into drinking water. The filtered-out salt will be diluted with the remaining 254 million gallons and sent back to the ocean.

The pumps that draw in that water will kill about two pounds of fish each day. (Poseidon says this is less than the daily consumption of an adult brown pelican). They’ll also squash 11 million to 16 million fish larvae daily — four billion to five billion annually.

State regulators are requiring Poseidon to mitigate that damage by restoring 37 acres of wetlands. The company estimates it would cost $10 million wherever it decides to repair damaged habitat and build a functioning ecosystem.

This hang-up has everyone’s attention. The regional board wants Poseidon to pick a specific site. Poseidon has identified 11 and says it will decide on a specific location later. Five are in San Diego County: the Tijuana River Valley, San Elijo Lagoon, San Dieguito River Valley, Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon. Others are in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The company says picking a site now would require a lengthy environmental review and delay the plant’s construction. The company promises to choose a site and finish mitigation before the plant begins operating, Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni said.

The environmental groups that have sued say Poseidon has the process backward. The company should not be able to get approval for building its project, they say, before completely identifying its mitigation plans.

“It’s not responsible for the agencies to approve a project without these questions being answered,” said Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego Coastkeeper. “Just because Poseidon has said ‘We’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll find a place to do mitigation,’ that shouldn’t be sufficient. You should know where the mitigation is going to occur.”

As that debate continues, state leaders are interjecting their comments. The regional board has received letters urging approval from Schwarzenegger; Linda Adams; Mike Chrisman, the natural resources secretary; and A.G. Kawamura, the food and agriculture secretary. Donald Koch, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, wrote that mitigation plans were sufficient.

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Publisher’s Note:  Feb 09, 2009 – Not only has Finavera surrendered their Makah Bay license noted below, they also announced surrendering the Humboldt County, California Preliminary Permit to explore wave energy:

“Finavera Renewables has filed applications to surrender its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Makah Bay Wave Energy Pilot Project in Washington and the Humboldt County Preliminary Permit for a proposed wave energy project in California.”

MendoCoastCurrent readers may recall Finavera’s inability to secure CPUC funding for the Humboldt project; noted below capitalization, financial climate as key reasons in these actions.

MendoCoastCurrent, February 6, 2009

finavera-wavepark-graphicToday Finavera Renewables surrendered their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Makah Bay, Washington wave energy project license, commenting that the Makah Bay Finavera project “never emerged from the planning stages.”

And “due to the current economic climate and the restrictions on capital necessary to continue development of this early-stage experimental Project, the Project has become uneconomic.  Efforts by Finavera to transfer the license were not successful.  Therefore, Finavera respectfully requests that the <FERC> Commission allow it to surrender its license for the Project. ”

Back in early 2007, Finavera’s Makah Bay project looked like it would become the first U.S. and west coast project deployment of wave energy devices.  And this project also had a unique status based on Native American Indian land/coastal waters, so the rules of FERC, MMS were different due to sovereign status.

Then AquaBuoy, Finavera’s premier wave energy device, sank off the Oregon coast due to a bilge pump failure in late October 2007.  

Recently noted was Finavera’s comment that they are currently focusing their renewable energy efforts toward wind energy projects closer to their homebase in British Columbia, Canada and in Ireland.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 31, 2009

On January 26, 2009, Lockheed Martin and Ocean Power Technologies agreed to work together to develop a commercial-scale wave energy project off the coasts of Oregon or California.

OPT is providing their expertise in project and site development as they build the plant’s power take-off and control systems with their PowerBuoy for electricity generation.  Lockheed will build, integrate and deploy the plant as well as provide operating and maintenance services. Lockheed and OPT have already worked together on maritime projects for the U.S. government.

Spanish utility Iberdrola is using OPT’s PowerBuoy on the Spainish coast in Santoña for first phase deployment, hoping to become the first commercial-scale wave energy device in the world.  In the Spainish project, Lockheed and Ocean Power are working toward an increased cost-performance of a power-purchasing agreement from which this U.S. wave energy project may benefit.

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Editors Note:  On May 11, 2009, PG&E pulled-out of Mendocino WaveConnect, read it here: http://tinyurl.com/qwlbg6 . The remains of the $6M are now solely allocated to Humboldt WaveConnect.

MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPG&E caught a major renewable energy wave today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding their centerpiece wave energy project, WaveConnect. The program also received an additional $1.2 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy. PG&E’s WaveConnect, a project already two years in the making, launches with a $6M kitty.

WaveConnect is chartered with exploring wave energy development off the coasts of Mendocino and Humboldt counties in Northern California. The stakeholders in this region are dyed-in-the-wool political activists, living in environmentally-centric coastal communities and have reacted protectively, sounding alarms that PG&E and the Federal government’s wave energy plans may foul, diminish and destroy the Pacific Ocean and marine life.

Over the two years that PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) advanced WaveConnect, only recently have environmental concerns and study become part of the discussion. The opportunity for Mendocino and Humboldt coastal communities and local governments to embrace wave energy development and connect with WaveConnect has not gone well, especially as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has disallowed the City of Fort Bragg and local fishermen to be party in the WaveConnect FERC Preliminary Permitting.

Jonathan Marshall, publisher of Next100, a PG&E blog, wrote “PG&E’s first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.”

“The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind,” says William Toman, WaveConnect project manager at PG&E. “It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability.” The CPUC and the DOE are betting on this evolution as in this funding scenario engineered by PG&E, the CPUC awards $4.8M in ratepayer funds while the DOE $1.2M is a matching grant.

Wave energy may become a key source of renewable energy in California. It’s proposed that the 745-mile coastline could produce 1/5th of California’s energy needs if, admittedly a big if, economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues — and community issues — don’t stand in the way.

Marshall wrote in closing “Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.”

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RenewableEnergyWorld.com, January 27, 2009 

One Choice

One Option on the Shortlist

A shortlist of proposed plans to generate electricity from the power of the tides in the Severn estuary has been unveiled by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has also announced £500,000 [US $702,000] of new funding to further develop early-stage technologies like tidal reefs and fences. The progress of these technologies will be considered before decisions are taken whether to go ahead with a Severn tidal power scheme.

The tides in the Severn estuary are the second highest in the world. The largest proposal being taken forward has the potential to generate nearly 5% of the UK’s electricity from this domestic, low carbon and sustainable source.

Over the past year, the Government-led feasibility study has been investigating a list of ten options, gathering information on the costs, benefits and environmental challenges of using the estuary to generate power.

The proposed shortlist is includes:       

  • Cardiff Weston Barrage: A barrage crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff. Its estimated capacity is over 8.6 gigawatts (GW).
  • Shoots Barrage: Further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme. Capacity of 1.05 GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant.
  • Beachley Barrage: The smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River. It could generate 625 MW.
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon: Lagoons are radical new proposals which impound a section of the estuary without damming it. This plan is sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare. It could generate 1.36 GW.
  • Fleming Lagoon: An impoundment on the Welsh shore of the estuary between Newport and the Severn road crossings. It too could generate 1.36 GW.The proposed shortlist will now be subject to a three month public consultation which begins this week.

“Fighting climate change is the biggest long term challenge we face and we must look to use the UK’s own natural resources to generate clean, green electricity. The Severn estuary has massive potential to help achieve our climate change and renewable energy targets. We want to see how that potential compares against the other options for meeting our goals,” said UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband.

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Susan Chambers, The World, January 26, 2009

coos-bay-intro1Coos Bay, Oregon – Ocean Power Technologies is feeling pressure as local groups, the state and even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urge the company to shrink its 200-buoy Coos Bay plan.

Oregon Wave Energy Partners I, as Ocean Power Technologies, filed its notice of intent and preliminary application document with FERC in March 2008 for the 200-buoy array off the North Spit.

The Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition, Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife filed comments suggesting OPT slow down. Instead of going for a full build-out, phase it in after more studies are done, they said.

The 200-buoy plan also runs counter to FERC’s own advice.

In August 2008, FERC told OPT that, “since information about the potential environmental effects of large-scale projects, such as proposed in your (preliminary application document) is limited, we believe that in most situations, smaller pilot projects are better suited for development at this time.”

The coalition also debated the length of the license, should it be granted. Like hydropower licenses, which typically are in force for between 30 and 50 years, so too are hyrokinetic licenses — those that cover wave, tidal and current energy projects.

“… it is premature to license a project of the size and scope planned off of Coos Bay, especially given the 30- to 50-year license terms being sought after,” SOORC said, noting that more studies should be done first.

OPT has said it will be a few years before even the first few buoys are in the water. OPT hasn’t yet placed one buoy in the water at Gardiner but FERC could grant a license for the Coos Bay project before any studies from the Reedsport project are completed.

ODFW, too, said more studies must be done.

“ODFW believes that the proposed project size (200 buoys) is not consistent with state’s support of experimental wave energy projects,” ODFW wrote in its comments. “A full build-out of a commercial sized project at this stage would lack the applied knowledge from studies of previous experimental projects, thus ODFW would not fully understand the potential impacts of the project in order to responsibly and thoroughly comment on a large project.”

The Port of Coos Bay reiterated Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s plan for the territorial sea. Last year, Kulongoski wrote to FERC that large-scale projects “must be preceded by a comprehensive evaluation for this and other uses of these waters to ensure those ocean resources and other ocean values and uses will not be harmed.”

That shows, the port said, that a small demonstration project should be allowed first, with studies over several years on impacts to the environment and coastal communities — before a full license is granted.

OPT’s vice president of Business Development and Marketing, Herb Nock, said the company expected such comments.

“It’s a range of views,” Nock said. “We came back to the public meetings and are investing the time to understand the alternative uses of the sea.”

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Let Your Voice Be Heard by March 23, 2009

by MendoCoastCurrent and pointarenabasin

Beginning January 22, 2009 and ending on March 23, 2009, a 60-day Public Comment Period opened regarding new offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the pristine waters off northern California.

And while this is a multi-step process and before things are cast in stone, NOW is the time to share your views.

FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER – REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – Minerals Management Service

Request for Comments on the Draft Proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed 5-Year Program

AGENCY: Minerals Management Service, Interior.

ACTION: Request for Comments.

SUMMARY: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) requests comments on the Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). This draft proposal is for a new oil and gas program to succeed the current program that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2012, and forms the basis for conducting the studies and analyses the Secretary will consider in making future decisions on what areas of the OCS to include in the program.

DATES: Please submit comments and information to the MMS no later than March 23, 2009.

LINK:  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click “Advanced Docket Search,” then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click the submit button. In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OMM-0045 to submit public comments and to view related materials available for this Notice.

Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior; Minerals Management Service; Attention: Leasing Division (LD); 381 Elden Street, MS-4010; Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Please reference “2010-2015 Oil and Gas Leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf,” in your comments and include your name and return address.

Summary of the Draft Proposed Program

In developing the DPP for 2010-2015, the MMS considered oil and gas leasing in the areas of the OCS that are included in the current 5-year program for 2007-2012 and additional areas off Alaska, Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coast. Some of these additional areas had been subject to annual congressional moratoria prohibiting oil and gas leasing. However, the moratoria expired on September 30, 2008. The DPP includes lease sales in offshore areas that have the highest oil and gas resource values and highest industry interest.

It has been promoted that 47 comments from oil and gas companies or associations nominated specific planning areas to be included in the new 5-Year program; some nominated all planning area.  

Wave energy reporter Frank Hartzell claims that the nominations may have been fabricated, see In Last Days, Bush Inflicts North Coast Offshore Oil Plan.

Table A–Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015–Lease Sale Schedule

———————————————————————

Sale Number Area Year

———————————————————————

236…………………… Northern California………..2014

Pacific Region

The Pacific Region consists of 4 planning areas–Washington-Oregon, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The DPP schedules one sale in the Northern California Planning Area and two in the Southern California Planning Area. The proposed sales are in areas of known hydrocarbon potential – the Point Arena Basin in Northern California.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation

Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of NEPA, the MMS intends to prepare an EIS for the new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing program for 2010-2015. This notice starts the formal scoping process for the EIS under 40 CFR 1501.7, and solicits information regarding issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. The EIS will analyzethe potential impacts of the adoption of the proposed 5-year program.

The comments that MMS has received in response to the August 2008, Request for Comments, and the comments received during scoping for the 2007-2012 5-Year EIS have identified environmental issues and concerns that MMS will consider in the EIS. In summary, these include climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats. Additionally alternatives will be developed and analyzed during the EIS process based on scoping comments and governmental communications. Alternatives may include increasing or decreasing the number or frequency of sales, coastal buffers, limiting areas available for leasing, and excluding parts of or entire planning areas.

Scoping Meetings

Meetings will be held between now and March 23, 2009 to receive scoping comments on the EIS including –

Ft. Bragg/Ukiah, California; TBA

Next Steps in the Process

The MMS plans to issue the proposed program and draft EIS in mid-summer 2009 for a 90-day comment period and plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS in spring 2010. The Secretary of the Interior may approve the new 5-year program 60 days later to go into effect as of July 1, 2010.

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PRESTON GRALLA, GreenerComputing.com, January 22, 2009

In a briefing to the Obama transition team in December, IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano recommended that Obama require that all federal data centers go green in three years.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama advisers had asked IBM shortly after the election to give a briefing about what impact investing in IT could have on job creation. In response, Palmisano made his presentation in a conference call. 

Most of the call was devoted to how an investment in technology could create jobs. IBM had worked with the think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation to look at three areas: broadband, IT related to health care, and smart grid technologies to make electric power more efficient. 

IBM told the Obama tteam that spending $10 billion for broadband networks to give high-speed Internet access to locations that now don’t have it would create 498,000 jobs in a year. Investing $10 billion in health-related IT would create 212,000 jobs. And investing $10 billion in a smart grid would create 239,000 jobs. 

Doing all that, of course, takes legislation. But according to the Journal article, Palmisano was also asked what steps the Obama administration could take that didn’t require Congressional action. The article says:

Mr. Palmisano suggested an executive order mandating that the government convert all its data center to be “green” data centers, optimized for energy efficiency, within three years.

Here’s hoping that Obama follows the advice. Not only would it directly help the environment and save the federal government money, but it would spur private enterprise to follow suit as well.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 17, 2009

Here’s the post from MendoCoastCurrent in the Citizen’s Briefing Book at President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov site:

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force

Immediately establish and staff a Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force chartered with exploring and fast-tracking the development, exploration and commercialization of environmentally-sensitive renewable energy solutions in solar, wind, wave, green-ag, et al.

At this ‘world-class incubator,’ federal energy policy development is created as cutting-edge technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing to refinement and implementation.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

If you wish to support this, please vote up this post at :

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Mendocino Energy:

Renewable energy incubator and campus on the Mendocino coast exploring nascent and organic technology solutions in wind, wave, solar, green-ag, bioremediation and coastal energy, located on the 400+ acre waterfront G-P Mill site.

Mendocino Energy may be a Campus in Obama’s Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

Vision:

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley.  On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site shall be used for exploring best practices, cost-efficient, environmentally-sensitive renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag, among many others. The end goal is to identify and engineer optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions.

Start-ups, universities (e.g., Stanford’s newly-funded energy institute), the federal government (RED) and the world’s greatest minds working together to create, collaborate, compete and participate in this fast-tracked exploration.

The campus is quickly constructed of green, temp-portable structures (also a green technology) on the healthiest areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is currently being tested (one more sustainable technology requiring exploration). So, readying the site and determining best sites for solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, wave energy, etc.

To learn more about these technologies, especially wave energy, RSS MendoCoastCurrent.

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MICHAEL FALCONE, The New York Times, January 16, 2009

On January 15, 2009, Senator Ken Salazar pledged to “clean up the mess” at the Interior Department if he is confirmed as the next chief of the department, which has been plagued by ethics scandals.

Mr. Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, also said he shared President Obama’s commitment to ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil, a goal that he said could be achieved, in part, through greater use of renewable resources like solar and wind power.

But he avoided specifics when members of the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources, who are considering his confirmation, pressed him on whether he supported an expansion of oil extraction from public lands and offshore drilling. 

On the question of whether to open more areas off the coasts to oil exploration, Mr. Salazar said there might be some areas where it would be appropriate and “other places that are off limits.”

The full Senate voted Thursday to set aside two million acres in nine states as protected wilderness. Approval is expected in the House.

Mr. Salazar, who was a farmer and rancher before he entered public life, also promised that on his watch the agency, which has jurisdiction over vast expanses of federal lands, would not be focused solely on the western half of the United States.

“I want this department to be America’s department,” he said.

Mr. Salazar also fielded questions on a variety of other topics, including the Endangered Species Act and changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

He kept his answers short, and often vague, but appeared to breeze through the hearing before a committee of his legislative colleagues.

Senator Ron Wyden,  Democrat of Oregon, said that it had turned into a “full-fledged bouquet-tossing contest.”

But Mr. Wyden warned Mr. Salazar that he had some “very heavy lifting ahead,” and sought assurances that he would review some decisions made by Bush administration officials to see if they were politically tainted.

Mr. Salazar said, “We will review what decisions have been made to see whether there is action necessary to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law and to make sure they’re in compliance with the science.”

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JIM TANKERSLEY, LA Times, January 13, 2009

Senators celebrated Steven Chu today as a scientist, administrator and Nobel Prize winner. But in the hearing on his nomination as President-elect Barack Obama’s Energy secretary, Chu was cast in a new role: politician.

Under gentle questioning from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the physicist and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory signaled his support for a variety of energy alternatives — including coal — to America’s dependence on imported oil.

Chu told Republicans that he would help fast-track a resurgence of domestic nuclear power and accept oil and gas drilling as part of a broad energy package. He told Democrats that he would champion solar plants and a “smart grid” that could help bring more wind power to market.

He told coal-state senators that he supports increased research for so-called “clean coal” technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, but that he wouldn’t wait for that process to be perfected before he supported new coal power plants. He softened a much-publicized 2008 comment that coal is “my worst nightmare,” saying that “if the world continues to use coal in the way we’re using it today . . . that’s a pretty bad dream.”

“We need all of the solutions,” Chu said midway through a more than two-hour hearing. “We need to make them as clean as possible, as quickly as possible. All I can say is, we really need to do all these things.”

But Chu made clear that he favors some things above others. He focused heavily on global warming and the need to combat it through efficiency measures and renewable energy research.

His questioners focused largely on regional energy production concerns, and Chu worked hard to allay them. He did not oppose calls for increased oil drilling as part of an energy package, but noted that the United States contains only an estimated 3% of the world’s known oil and gas reserves.

In multiple answers, he sketched a plan for accelerated nuclear energy development, including improving a department loan program for new reactors and developing a long-range plan for dealing with nuclear waste.

His most extended questioning on climate change came from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who asked whether Chu preferred setting government caps on emissions or levying a carbon tax to curb them. Chu deferred to Obama’s stance in favor of caps.

“Is that the best decision,” Corker asked, “or the politically best decision?”

To which Chu replied, drawing laughter: “You’re far more experienced at answering that question than I am.”

Committee members praised Chu’s credentials and his answers, and they predicted quick and easy confirmation of his appointment. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chairs the energy committee, said the committee could approve Chu by week’s end.

The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, told Chu: “It’s probably fair to say that you are uniquely poised in your ability to bring with you your background that relates the science and the technology” of the Energy Department.

Chu’s home-state senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, were equally effusive: “Simply stating, in my opinion,” Feinstein said, “there is no one brighter or more equipped than this man to become secretary of energy.”

After the hearing, even environmental groups that oppose coal and nuclear plants praised Chu’s commitment to renewable fuels and efficiency.

“What I am most heartened by is that we have someone heading the Department of Energy now who not only believes that we must fight global warming, but that the top ways of fighting global warming are energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said Anna Aurilio, who directs the Washington office for Environment America. “This is a huge change in direction from where the previous administration has been.”

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RENAY SAN MIGUEL, TechNewsWorld, January 12, 2009

A Harvard researcher spent much of Monday setting the record straight about his research and how it relates to Google’s energy consumption. A Sunday Times of London story reported that conducting two Google searches generates as much carbon dioxide as boiling water, though the researcher denies singling out Google.

A story in the Sunday Times of London sent Google’s public relations machine into an advanced search for answers. The Times reporters wrote about a new Harvard study that examines the energy impact of Web searches. The story’s lead paragraph: “Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.”

One problem: the study’s author, Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, says he never mentions Google in the study. “For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google,” Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld. “Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site.”

And the example involving tea kettles? “They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics,” Wissner-Gross said.

The Times story is giving Google a chance to talk about the company’s green initiatives and its efforts to pursue cleaner energy technologies on several fronts, Google spokesperson Jamie Yood said. “This comes from the top, from (cofounders) Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin), who are really dedicated to this. There’s an acknowledgment that Google is using energy and on the business front it makes sense to get this energy cost as low as possible,” Yood told TechNewsWorld. “And on the environmental front, they are passionate about climate change and are really involved. They recognize that if we’re going to use energy, let’s try to figure out how to do this as minimally as possible.”

That includes the use of biodiesel shuttles and electric cars to and from its Mountain View, Calif., campus, offering bikes for employees to ride from building to building on that campus, and using recyclable materials throughout those buildings. And when it comes to its farms, “we do believe we have the most energy efficient data centers.”

Google takes exception on its story regarding the energy used to Web search vs. boiling a kettle of water. A speedy search uses less energy, the company claims; about the same amount of energy as the human body uses in about 10 seconds.

Google has asked to see a copy of the study, and Wissner-Gross says he is more than happy to send them one.

One of theTimes article’s authors had interviewed a Google engineer “whose job is to look at data centers to make sure they’re more energy efficient, and he didn’t really use any of his material,” Yood said.

Greenpeace doesn’t really focus on the energy efficiencies used by Google or Web companies in general, said spokesperson Daniel Kessler. It is more focused on electronics products, the toxic materials used and company recycling initiatives. However, Google gets high marks for its green efforts in Washington D.C., Kessler said. “I commend Google for its lobbying and the legislative work they’re doing when it comes to clean energy,” Kessler told TechNewsWorld. “In the whole tech sector, they’re really on the forefront on taking action regarding the climate.”

Google’s data centers burn through a lot of energy in the course of providing answers to search queries around the world, and the cheapest form of that energy right now is coal, said Roger Kay, principal at Endpoint Technologies Associates, who keeps a close eye on the environmental policies at IT companies.

“It’s taking that electricity bill they’ve got and kind of making it a proportion of the total expenditure of the generation of electricity, and then allocating that as a cost to Google and saying that’s their responsibility, their piece of it,” Kay told TechNewsWorld. “It’s just modeling, a modeling exercise that may not necessarily be a reflection of reality.”

The location of the information needed in a Web search may also play a part, Kay said. “If you’re looking for the latest on Brad Pitt, then that’s likely to be stored in multiple servers towards the edge of the network, where it will be an easy search. Google through its traffic management knows a lot of people are interested in that. But if you want to read Cicero’s works, which haven’t been read for a while, you may have to go deep into the network.”

Wissner-Gross, who manages the Web site CO2stats.com to help educate people about energy efficiencies on the Internet, has been inundated with press requests since the Times story was published. The Times quoted him correctly in the story as saying, “A Google search has a definite environmental impact” and “Google operates huge data centers around the world that consume a great deal of power,” he confirmed.

“I don’t think anybody would disagree with those statements,” Wissner-Gross said. “Everything online has a definite environmental impact. I think everybody can agree on that, including Google.”

There’s a difference between regular servers and those used in advanced data centers, Wissner-Gross said, and he acknowledges that Google would have a financial interest in maintaining an energy-efficient infrastructure. “Energy consumption may be a higher fraction of infrastructure costs for large companies like Google than the hardware itself.”

In between answering reporters’ e-mails and appearing on CNBC, Wissner-Gross has had a lot of time to think about why the Sunday Times focused on Google in its story. “The short answer is, it’s a really easy way to sell papers. Google is a very successful company and it’s a very easy way to get readership by making grandiose claims about them.”

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NEIL KING, The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2009

pickens372Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens and FedEx Corp. chief executive Fred Smith are now duking it out—over, of all things, the virtues of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Since announcing the Pickens Plan in July, the oilman-cum-wind power booster has spent over $60 million, along with countless hours zig-zagging the country in his corporate jet, to promote his plan for using wind power and natural-gas vehicles to break the country’s foreign-oil habit. The Oklahoma-born oil magnate insists the U.S. could cut its oil imports by one-third in 10 years by mandating that all new long-haul trucks dump diesel in favor of liquefied natural gas.

He just unveiled yet another TV ad and is building up his Pickens Army online—now 1.35 million strong and counting—in order to pressure the new Congress to translate his plan into law.

But Mr. Pickens has his opponents, including FedEx CEO Fred Smith, who favors electrification of the transporation fleet. Mr. Smith argues that hybrids are the way to go, and is putting his money where his mouth is. With 80,000 motorized vehicles, FedEx now boasts the largest fleet of commercial hybrid trucks in North America.

Without naming Mr. Pickens, the company’s director of sustainability, Mitch Jackson, upped the ante on Sunday with a blog item blasting natural gas as transport fuel of the future.  After citing a list of reasons against using natural gas instead of diesel, Mr. Jackson concludes that “substituting one fossil fuel for another may mean we’re shifting our energy supply, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going anywhere.”

Mr. Pickens then let it rip with a rebuttal that accuses Mr. Jackson of making a “flawed argument” by misunderstanding the country’s natural-gas reserves and overstating the value of diesel hybrids.

“Not only does Jackson need to do more homework on the domestic availability and clean air benefits of natural gas,” Mr. Pickens writes in his Daily Pickens blog, “he needs to realize that deploying vehicles that use slightly less foreign oil – vehicles that have little testing or are not available in the marketplace – will not solve America’s energy crisis.”

Mr. Pickens has won allies in his natural-gas fight, including an array of lawmakers in Washington and army of online supporters. Fedex rival UPS is turning some of its fleet over to natural gas, and WalMart is eyeing a similar plan.

But along with FedEx, the American Trucking Association is not keen on the idea. And ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson took his own swipe at it in a speech on Thursday, saying the plan “has a number of flaws in its assumptions” and could end up increasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

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CBS 5 with MendoCoastCurrent edits, January 8, 2009

oil_rigNew legislation may prevent oil drilling off the California coast in Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

Growing concern about the nation’s reliance on foreign oil has led to rekindled enthusiasm in some quarters for coastal oil drilling, and renewed efforts to protect the Northern California coast.

Two bills introduced when Congress convened this week place a ban on coastal oil drilling in Northern California, one by creating a marine sanctuary off the Sonoma coast. 

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Marin and Sonoma counties attempted to push the marine sanctuary bill through when a 26-year moratorium on offshore oil drilling expired last year. 

Another bill by Rep. Mike Thompson of Northern California permanently bans drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. 

Both said without quick action, new oil rigs may soon dot California’s coast.

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DAVID EHRLICH, Earth2Tech/GigaOm, December 23, 2008

environmental_defenseOcean energy could have a big part to play under President-elect Barack Obama’s environmentally friendly administration, but a coalition that’s pushing for more wave and tidal power says change is needed to expand the number of projects in the U.S. Right now, there are only a handful of ocean energy projects in the U.S. and they’re all in the testing phase, according to the coalition.

The group, which is led by the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization, said it has met with Obama’s transition team to discuss what it says is a confusing, and sometimes contradictory, array of federal regulations for ocean power. It claims that with federal help, ocean energy has the potential to generate 10% of the country’s demand for electricity, as well as create tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.

Earlier this month, Obama named four key members to his cabinet that will be responsible for energy and climate change, including Steven Chu as energy secretary.

One big conflict the new cabinet may have to deal with is a jurisdictional dispute between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Minerals Management Service, part of the Dept. of the Interior. Both agencies have claims on the waters where ocean energy projects would be installed.

Part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Minerals Management Service the power to issue leases for renewable energy projects in the outer continental shelf a zone of federally owned seabeds outside of state waters, which the coalition said typically covers an area from 3-200 nautical miles offshore.

But that new law didn’t eliminate any preexisting federal authority in the area, and the FERC has said it has the authority to license wave and tidal projects in U.S. territorial waters covering an area within 12 nautical miles of the shore.

According to the coalition, despite negotiations between the two agencies, they’ve been unable to reach an agreement on the overlapping claims. The group said that the continued uncertainty from that conflict is making it harder to lock down financing for ocean energy projects in the States.

The coalition is made up of local governments, utilities, environmental groups and ocean power companies, including Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies, which recently inked a deal to develop wave power projects off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.

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ALOK JHA, Guardian UK, January 5, 2009

Tidal Energy's DeltaStream

Tidal Energy's DeltaStream

Propellers on ships have been tried and tested for centuries in the rough and unforgiving environment of the sea: now this long-proven technology will be used in reverse to harness clean energy from the UK’s powerful tides.

The tides that surge around the UK’s coasts could provide up to a quarter of the nation’s electricity, without any carbon emissions. But life in the stormy seas is harsh and existing equipment – long-bladed underwater wind turbines – is prone to failure.  A Welsh renewable energy company has teamed up with ship propulsion experts to design a new marine turbine which they believe is far more robust.

Cardiff-based Tidal Energy Limited will test a 1MW tidal turbine off the Pembrokeshire coast at Ramsey Sound, big enough to supply around 1,000 homes. Their DeltaStream device, invented by marine engineer Richard Ayre while he was installing buoys in the marine nature reserve near Pembrokeshire, will be the first tidal device in Wales and become fully operational in 2010.

To ensure the propeller and electricity generation systems were as tough as possible, the tidal turbine’s designers worked with Converteam, a company renowned for designing propulsion systems for ships. “They’ve put them on the bottom of the Queen Mary … and done work for highly efficient destroyers, which is exactly the same technology that we’re looking at here,” said Chris Williams, development director of DeltaStream.

DeltaStream’s propellers work in reverse to a ship’s propulsion system – the water turns the blades to generate electricity – but the underlying connections between blades and power systems are identical to those on the ship.

Tidal streams are seen as a plentiful and predictable supply of clean energy, as the UK tries to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Conservative estimates suggest there is at least 5GW of power, but there could be as much as 15GW – 25% of current national demand.

A single DeltaStream unit has three propeller-driven generators that sit on a triangular frame. It weighs 250 tonnes, but is relatively light compared with other tidal systems which can be several times heavier. The unit is simple to install and can be used in closely packed units at depths of at least 20m. Unlike other tidal turbine systems, which must be anchored to the sea floor using piles bored into the seabed, DeltaStream’s triangular structure simply sits on the sea floor.

Duncan Ayling, head of offshore at the British Wind Energy Association and a former UK government adviser on marine energy, said that one of the biggest issues facing all tidal-stream developers is ease of installation and maintenance of their underwater device. “Anything you put under the water becomes expensive to get to and service. The really good bit of the DeltaStream is that they can just plonk it in the water and it just sits there.”

Another issue that has plagued proposed tidal projects is concern that the whirling blades could kill marine life. But Williams said: “The blades themselves are thick and slow moving in comparison to other devices, so minimising the chance of impact on marine life.”

The device also has a fail-safe feature when the water currents become too powerful and threaten to destroy the turbines by dragging them across the sea floor – the propellers automatically tilt their orientation to shed the extra energy.

Pembrokeshire businessman and sustainability consultant Andy Middleton said: “People are increasingly recognising how serious global warming really is, and in St David’s we are keen to embrace our responsibility to minimise climate change. DeltaStream is developing into a perfect example of the technology that fills the need for green energy and has the added benefit of being invisible and reliable.”

The country’s first experimental tidal turbine began generating electricity in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland last year, built by Bristol-based company Marine Current Turbines. SeaGen began at about 150kW, enough for around 100 homes, but has now reached 1,200kW in testing. It had a setback early in its test phase, with the tidal streams breaking one of the blades in July.

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MARIA DICKERSON, the Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2008

7nov07_solarAt a time when many investors are sticking money in their mattresses, Californians are putting it on their roofs.

Applications for state rebates to install solar panels hit their highest level ever in December, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy.

Residents filed a record 1,215 applications seeking solar subsidies this month, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s the best showing in the program’s 24-month history, and December isn’t even finished. More than 18,000 California homeowners and businesses have applied for rebates over the last two years. Although not everyone who files this paperwork actually ends up installing solar, the figures are viewed as a reliable barometer of future demand.

A record 133 megawatts of solar photovoltaics have been installed in California so far this year, even as the state’s economy has stumbled.

Michelle Gerdes of Long Beach just lost her job as a designer for a dinnerware manufacturer. Her husband, Steve, works for an air-conditioning company whose business is slowing. But that didn’t stop the couple from buying $32,000 worth of photovoltaic panels that went up on their roof this month. The state rebate and a federal tax credit will reduce their out-of-pocket costs to about $17,000 — a substantial saving but still a big chunk of change. “We decided to just go for it,” said Michelle Gerdes, 44. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment . . . and it will definitely increase the value of our house.”

Coming in the midst of a deep recession, continued strong demand for solar has thrilled — and puzzled — officials who oversee the California Solar Initiative, which seeks to put panels on 1 million roofs in California within a decade. Consumers nationwide are in a serious spending funk. Even with California’s generous incentives, photovoltaic systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

New federal tax breaks have persuaded some homeowners to take the plunge, said Molly Sterkel, who manages rooftop solar efforts for the utilities commission.

Others are being enticed by new financing models pioneered in California that allow them to go solar for little or no money down. Add rising electricity rates in many parts of the state and turmoil in the financial markets, and some consumers are concluding that sunshine is their safest investment.

California is by far the nation’s leader in rooftop solar, with well over half the installed capacity.

“In an economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money on things that they are going to do anyway,” said Nat Kreamer, founder of SunRun Inc., a San Francisco residential solar energy company. “Electricity is one of those fundamentals.”

Launched in January 2007, the California Solar Initiative is an attempt to push photovoltaics on a mass scale in California to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up the state’s energy supply.

The goal is 3,000 megawatts installed by 2018, enough to displace five good-sized power plants.

Funded by utility ratepayers across the state, the $3-billion program offers rebates to Californians who install panels on their homes and businesses. Incentives vary. But refunds typically range from 20% to 50% of a system’s cost.

The incentives are structured to decline over time as demand grows, meaning Californians who act sooner will get the biggest refunds.

Rooftop solar will get even more attractive in January. Congress recently expanded federal investment tax credits for residential solar arrays. Starting next year, homeowners will be eligible for tax breaks of up to 30% of the entire cost of their projects. Those benefits had previously been capped at $2,000 per system.

“That has really spurred the market,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based solar installer. “Our cash sales have increased dramatically.”

For consumers who still can’t afford to purchase, SolarCity has a residential leasing option. It lets them put solar on their roofs without the hefty upfront costs. Customers cut their power bills while the rebates and tax credits flow to SolarCity, which maintains ownership of the panels.

The deal has proved so popular that it has turned SolarCity into the state’s largest installer of residential rooftop photovoltaics.

Kreamer’s SunRun offers a similar program known as a power purchase agreement. His company installs, maintains and owns the systems. Homeowners sign a long-term contract with SunRun for solar energy that’s priced below what they pay for conventional power.

Californians pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Rates in many parts of the state are rising.

The Gerdeses’ utility, Southern California Edison, is asking state regulators to allow it to collect more than $700 million extra from its ratepayers next year.

It won’t be coming from the Gerdeses. With solar panels now snug on their roof, the couple needn’t worry about rising electricity bills as the recession deepens.

“We can think about turning the hot tub back on now,” Michelle Gerdes said.

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JANE KAY, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 2008

ba-drilling1229__sfcg1230351957The federal government is taking steps that may open California’s fabled coast to oil drilling in as few as three years, an action that could place dozens of platforms off the Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt coasts, and raises the specter of spills, air pollution and increased ship traffic into San Francisco Bay.

Millions of acres of oil deposits, mapped in the 1980s when then-Interior Secretary James Watt and Energy Secretary Donald Hodel pushed for California exploration, lie a few miles from the forested North Coast and near the mouth of the Russian River, as well as off Malibu, Santa Monica and La Jolla in Southern California.

“These are the targets,” said Richard Charter, a lobbyist for the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund who worked for three decades to win congressional bans on offshore drilling. “You couldn’t design a better formula to create adverse impacts on California’s coastal-dependent economy.”

The bans that protected both of the nation’s coasts beginning in 1981, from California to the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Coast and the Straits of Florida, ended this year when Congress let the moratorium lapse.

President-elect Barack Obama hasn’t said whether he would overturn President Bush’s lifting last summer of the ban on drilling, as gas prices reached a historic high. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Col., Obama’s pick as interior secretary and head of the nation’s ocean-drilling agency, hasn’t said what he would do in coastal waters.

The Interior Department has moved to open some or all federal waters, which begin 3 miles from shore and are outside state control, for exploration as early as 2010. Rigs could go up in 2012.

National marine sanctuaries off San Francisco and Monterey bays are off-limits in California. Areas open to drilling extend from Bodega Bay north to the Oregon border and from Morro Bay south to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Drilling foes say the impacts of explosive blasts from seismic air guns that map rock formations, increased vessel traffic and oil spills should be enough to persuade federal agencies to thwart petroleum exploration. California’s treasured coast, with its migrating whales, millions of seabirds, sea otters, fish and crab feeding grounds, beaches and tidal waters, are at risk, Charter and other opponents say.

According to the Interior Department, coastal areas nationwide that were affected by the drilling ban contain 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in what the agency called yet-to-be-discovered fields. The estimates are conservative and are based on seismic surveys in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the moratorium went into effect.

California’s Share

The agency’s last estimate puts about 10 billion barrels in California, enough to supply the nation for 17 months. That breaks down to 2.1 billion barrels from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border, 2.3 billion from Point Arena south to San Luis Obispo County and 5.6 billion between there and Mexico.

“If you were allowed to go out and do new exploration, those numbers could go up or down. In most cases, you would expect them to go up,” said Dave Smith, deputy communications officer of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which oversees energy development in federal waters.

In California, any exploration and drilling would be close to shore, experts say. In contrast to the Gulf of Mexico, where drilling could occur in waters 10,000 feet deep, California’s holdings lie on its narrow, shallow continental shelf, the underwater edge of land where creatures died over the millennia to produce the oil.

If the Interior Department decides to explore off California’s coast, it could probably do so, some attorneys say. If a state objects to a lease plan, the president has the final say.

Once an area has been leased, the California Coastal Commission may review an oil company’s plan to explore or extract resources to assess if it is consistent with the state’s coastal management program. Conflicts can end up in court, said Alison Dettmer, the commission’s deputy director.

Californians have generally opposed drilling since a platform blowout in 1969 splashed 3 million gallons of black, gooey crude oil on 35 miles of beaches around Santa Barbara, killing otters and seabirds. The destruction of shoreline and wildlife sparked activism and led to the creation of the Coastal Commission.

But when gas prices peaked a few months ago amid cries of “drill, baby, drill” at rallies for GOP presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin, 51 percent of Californians said they favored more offshore drilling, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

In July, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne jump-started the development of a new oil and natural gas leasing program and pushed up possible new coastal activity by two years.

The Interior Department is reviewing comments about which coastal areas to include in the next five-year leasing plan. Oil companies want all of the nation’s coastal areas open and say they can produce oil offshore in a way that protects the environment. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposes new offshore development, has offered comments, as have environmental groups.

Obama’s Energy Plans

Obama’s administration and Congress will have the final say over which regions, if any, would be put up for possible lease sales. In Congress earlier this year, Salazar, Obama’s nominee for interior secretary, supported a bipartisan bill allowing exploration and production 50 miles out from the southern Atlantic coast with state approval. The bill died.

“We’ve been encouraged that the president-elect has chosen Sen. Salazar,” said Dan Naatz, vice president for federal resources with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a group with 5,000 members that drill 90% of the oil and natural gas wells in the United States. “He’s from the West, and he understands federal land policy, which is really key.”

During this year’s presidential campaign, Obama was bombarded by questions about high gas prices and said new domestic drilling wouldn’t do much to lower gasoline prices but could have a place in a comprehensive energy program.

After introducing his green team of environment and energy chiefs recently, Obama said the foundation of the nation’s energy independence lies in the “power of wind and solar, in new crops and new technologies, in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs and the dedication and skill of our workforce.”

He spoke of moving “beyond our oil addiction,” creating “a new, hybrid economy” and investing in “renewable energy that will give life to new businesses and industries.”

Obama didn’t mention oil drilling. When a reporter asked him if he would reinstate the moratorium, he said he wasn’t happy that the moratorium was allowed to lapse in Congress without a broader thought to how the country was going to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

He reiterated his campaign position that he was open to the idea of offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive package, adding that he would turn over the question to his team.

In the 1970s and 1980s, before the moratorium on offshore drilling fully took effect, the federal government produced a series of maps showing areas in California of prospective interest to the oil industry. Those maps offer clues to where oil companies would bid if they had the opportunity.

North Coast

The last proposed lease sale in 1987, thwarted by the moratorium, would have opened 6.5 million acres off the North Coast. Off Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the tracts for sale lay from 3 to 27 miles offshore, and some of the 24 planned platforms, some of them 300 feet tall and each with dozens of wells, would have been visible from land.

Tourism and commercial fisheries would have been affected, according to an environmental review then, while as many as 240 new oil tanker trips from Fort Bragg and Eureka to San Francisco Bay refineries were predicted under the full development scenario. The probability of one or more spills occurring would be 94 percent for accidents involving 1,000 barrels or more, according to documents.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, recently said oil drilling will be part of a comprehensive energy policy focusing on renewable sources, but she would like to see drilling occur only on land and in the Gulf of Mexico where infrastructure is in place.

Capps well remembers the Santa Barbara spill almost 40 years ago.

“I was living in Goleta. I just had two children, and my husband was a young professor at UC Santa Barbara. It was a devastating experience,” she said. “The birds and other animals got trapped in the oil. So many people waded out in boots just inch by inch trying to rescue our wildlife. It ruined our tourism for many years.

“I think about it all the time, especially last week when we had had a spill at the same platform. It was a small spill, 1,000 gallons, but it was a wake-up call.”

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JOHN M. BRODER, The New York Times, December 18, 2008

17transition2-6001President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Interior Department, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, will inherit an agency demoralized by years of scandal, political interference and mismanagement.

He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands. He will be expected to restore scientific integrity to a department where it has repeatedly been compromised. He will be responsible for ending the department’s coziness with the industries it regulates. And he will have to work hard to overcome skepticism among many environmentalists about his views on resource and wildlife issues.

One senior Interior Department executive described the job Mr. Salazar has been chosen for as “the booby prize of the Cabinet.”

As Mr. Obama introduced Mr. Salazar and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor tapped to be secretary of agriculture, at a press conference Wednesday in Chicago, he said their responsibility would be to balance the protection of farms and public lands against the need to find new sources of energy.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” Mr. Obama said. “That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national treasures.”

Mr. Salazar, wearing his customary ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, said that his job entails helping the nation address climate change through a “moon shot” on energy independence. But that would include not just the development of “green” energy sources like wind power, but also the continued domestic development of coal, oil and natural gas, fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases when they are burned.

Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado’s natural resources department and as the state’s attorney general. Mr. Salazar was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist.

Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. “Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. “Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.”

Mr. Popovich noted approvingly that Mr. Salazar had tried to engineer a deal in the Senate allowing mining companies and others to reclaim abandoned mines without fear of lawsuits. (The legislation is pending.) He has also supported robust research on technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, something the coal industry favors.

He also backed a compromise that would let oil companies drill for natural gas in limited parts of the Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado, a plan that most environmental advocates opposed.

Mr. Salazar is a fifth-generation Coloradan who grew up on a ranch near the New Mexico border. He has been a farmer, lawyer and small-business man as well as a public servant.

Pam Kiely, program director at Environment Colorado, said Mr. Salazar had been a champion of wilderness protection and of strong water quality laws, and had raised questions about the environmental costs of oil shale development, a subject of great controversy in the Mountain West. She said he had not spoken out forcefully against oil and gas development in millions of acres of national forests and roadless areas.

“We hope he continues to play a role in ensuring that, as we develop our mineral rights in these incredibly sensitive areas, we require industry to put in place safeguards that protect our health, environment, water and air quality,” Ms. Kiely said.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said in a statement that Mr. Salazar understood that energy security can be achieved only by making use of all domestic energy sources, including those found on and under public lands.

“We are pleased that the president-elect has chosen someone who understands that there is a direct connection between federal lands and access to affordable, clean natural gas,” Mr. Smith said.

While industry officials praised his moderation, Mr. Salazar drew harsh criticism from some environmentalists.

“He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. “He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change.”

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Even as Mr. Salazar navigates the department’s tricky political cross-currents, he must also deal with significant internal management challenges. Members of Congress and outside groups are calling for review of dozens of decisions made under the Bush administration on endangered species and oil and gas leasing. The senior management ranks of the department have been depleted by departures of demoralized career employees.

And the agency’s computer systems are badly in need of repair, after millions of dollars have been spent on systems that have not worked, according to several internal reports.

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Science Daily, December 20, 2008

0812161141021MIT researchers are working with Portuguese colleagues to design a pilot-scale device that will capture significantly more of the energy in ocean waves than existing systems, and use it to power an electricity-generating turbine.

Wave energy is a large, widespread renewable resource that is environmentally benign and readily scalable. In some locations — the northwestern coasts of the United States, the western coast of Scotland, and the southern tips of South America, Africa and Australia, for example — a wave absorbing device could theoretically generate 100 to 200 megawatts of electricity per kilometer of coastline. But designing a wave capture system that can deal with the harsh, corrosive seawater environment, handle hourly, daily and seasonal variations in wave intensity, and continue to operate safely in stormy weather is difficult. 

Chiang Mei, the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been a believer in wave energy since the late 1970s. After the recent oil price spike, there has been renewed interest in harnessing the energy in ocean waves.

To help engineers design such devices, Professor Mei and his colleagues developed numerical simulations that can predict wave forces on a given device and the motion of the device that will result. The simulations guide design decisions that will maximize energy capture and provide data to experts looking for efficient ways to convert the captured mechanical energy to electrical energy.

One country with a good deal of expertise in wave energy research and development is Portugal. For the past three years, Mei has been working with Professors Antonio Falcao, Antonio Sarmento, and Luis Gato of Insitituto Superior Tecnico, Technical University of Lisbon, as they plan a pilot-scale version of a facility called an oscillating water column, or OWC. Situated on or near the shore, an OWC consists of a chamber with a subsurface opening. As waves come in and out, the water level inside the chamber goes up and down. The moving surface of the water forces air trapped above it to flow into and out of an opening that leads to an electricity-generating turbine. The turbine is a design by A.A.Wells in which the blades always rotate in the same direction, despite the changing direction of the air stream as the waves come in and out.

The Portuguese plan is to integrate the OWC plant into the head of a new breakwater at the mouth of the Douro River in Porto, a large city in northern Portugal. Ultimately, the installation will include three OWCs that together will generate 750 kilowatts — roughly enough to power 750 homes. As a bonus, the plant’s absorption of wave energy at the breakwater head will calm the waters in the area and reduce local erosion.

The challenge is to design a device that resonates and thus operates efficiently at a broad spectrum of wave frequencies — and an unexpected finding from the MIT analysis provides a means of achieving that effect. The key is the compressibility of the air inside the OWC chamber. That compressibility cannot be changed, but its impact on the elevation of the water can be — simply by changing the size of the OWC chamber. The simulations showed that using a large chamber causes resonance to occur at a wider range of wavelengths, so more of the energy in a given wave can be captured. “We found that we could optimize the efficiency of the OWC by making use of the compressibility of air — something that is not intuitively obvious,” Mei says. “It’s very exciting.”

He is currently working with other graduate students on wave power absorbers on coastlines of different geometries and on how to extract wave power from an array of many absorbers.

Mei continues to be enthusiastic about wave energy, but he is not unrealistic in his expectations. Although costs have been falling in recent years, wave energy is unlikely to be commercially viable for a long time — perhaps several decades. Nevertheless, Mei is adamant that more attention should be given to this renewable source of energy, and he would like to see a team of MIT experts in different fields — from energy capture and conversion to transmission and distribution — working collaboratively toward making large-scale wave energy a reality.

“Given the future of conventional energy sources, we need lots of research on all kinds of alternative energy,” he says. “Right now, wind energy and solar energy are in the spotlight because they’ve been developed for a longer time. With wave energy, the potential is large, but the engineering science is relatively young. We need to do more research.”

This article is adapted from a longer version that appeared in the autumn 2008 issue of Energy Futures, the newsletter of the MIT Energy Initiative.

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CYNTHIA THIELEN, The Star Bulletin, December 21, 2008

Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) in the State House

coh1An unusual consortium comprised of large utilities, environmental groups, energy think tanks and ocean energy developers has just written to President-elect Barack Obama about the tremendous potential of wave energy and the role it can play in reducing our nation’s dependence upon oil.

The group includes utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Portland General Electric and Florida Power & Light (the largest utilities in California, Oregon and Florida, respectively); environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council; and academic entities Oregon State University and the New England Marine Renewable Energy Center. Taking the initiative on Hawaii’s behalf are Robbie Alm, COO of Hawaiian Electric Co., Virginia Hinshaw, chancellor of the University of Hawaii, and Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. I encouraged these Hawaii leaders to participate in the important discussions with the new administration.

In its letter to the president-elect, the consortium is asking Obama to provide support for wave energy, citing “conservative estimates” that indicate wave energy could “supply at least 10% of the current U.S. demand.” That’s a staggering number for an economically imperiled nation that has spent $700 billion in the last two years on imported oil.

The consortium attached a white paper, titled “Ocean Renewable Energy: A Shared Vision and Call for Action,” to its letter. Among the guiding principles are encouraging pilot and demonstration scale projects, streamlining regulatory processes and cooperating in preparation of unified environmental documents.

Economic stimulation can’t take place at home if the U.S. ends up having to import wave energy conversion technology. The consortium stakeholders are making this a major focal point, stating that “without increased government action to encourage demonstration projects and to fund research and development, the promise of ocean renewable energy may never be realized, and the U.S. may see Europe corner the market on these technologies, in much the same way that it did with wind.”

The consortium also stresses the importance of pilot projects in determining the effects of wave energy technology on marine environments to ensure that we protect our ocean resources to the greatest degree possible while extracting energy from ocean waves.

I joined the stakeholders in the consortium and met with Obama’s transition team on December 16, 2008 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how best to integrate wave energy technology into the U.S. energy portfolio.

Hawaii is poised to become a leader. The Department of Energy designated the University of Hawaii as one of two national Marine Renewable Energy Centers. HECO, the administration and energy department signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an effort to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy needs with clean energy by the year 2030. Since that time, Hawaii has seen bold plans in the renewable sector. Two of the more ambitious projects are Oceanlinx LLC’s wave energy project off Maui, and Better Place’s electric vehicles. But the electric vehicles must be able to obtain energy from clean, renewable resources, such as ocean waves.

The message I gave to Obama’s transition team is that Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for wave energy conversion, and we are ready. We have an abundance of year-round wave energy, a large, concentrated market on Oahu and our residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation because our state exports up to $7 billion each year to import oil. With UH Chancellor Hinshaw, HECO executive Alm and economic director Liu joining the consortium’s call for action, our state will lead.

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JOHN KING, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2008

dungenessThe impacts of climate change are a hot topic among scientists and environmental activists.  Now the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wants to hear from another perspective: the design community.

The state agency is preparing to launch a $125,000 competition that will invite architects, planners and engineers to bring innovative proposals “to climate proof the Bay Area,” in the words of the competition outline.

The aim isn’t to stop climate change from happening, say officials, or to build impregnable levees. The goal is to get designers thinking creatively about how to prepare for a world where the sea level might climb several feet – inundating large portions of the developed region unless something is done

“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” said Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”

The commission approved a $25,000 contract with David Meckel to manage the competition. This means selecting the design jury as well as framing the rules – such as deciding whether design teams will be asked to look at specific sites or respond to broader issues.

“There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” said Meckel, whose design competition work is a sideline to his role as director of research for the California College of the Arts. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”

As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The current timetable calls for the competition to be launched in the spring and conclude by the end of 2009.

Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.

“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”

Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”

“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea said. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”

The competition is the latest sign of how a commission created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking now grapples with the opposite problem: projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.

Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled; so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.

Another factor that might draw attention: the novelty.

“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” said G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.

“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer said. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”

“What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond ‘protecting the shoreline.’ “

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JOHN DRISCOLL, The Times-Standard, December 15, 2008

A white paper commissioned by the state of California says that tapping the ocean for power should be done carefully.

The report for the California Energy Commission and the Ocean Protection Council looked at the possible socio-economic and environmental effects of the infant industry, including what it might mean for fisheries and coastal habitat.

It also made recommendations on what research should be done to address those potential effects.

The waters remain murky in regard to what type of technology wave energy projects might use, and the scope of necessary development. The study finds that it will be key to fill in that missing information to determine what impacts they might have.

“Site selection and project scale are critical factors in anticipating these potential effects,” the report reads.

Depending on their size and location, the study reads, commercial and sport fisheries might be impacted, but new projects would yield construction and operations jobs for nearby communities.

But projects could also interfere with wave shoaling and beach building by stripping some energy out of waves, and that in turn could affect species from the high tide line out to the continental shelf.

The buoys or other structures designed to convert wave power to electricity are also likely to act like artificial reefs where reef-related fish would congregate, the report reads, a change from what would typically occur in the open ocean.

Birds and marine mammals may also be affected, but likely to a small degree, the study found.

Still, the report concludes that there aren’t any dramatic impacts expected, and recommends that the push to develop projects proceed carefully, listing a slew of research that should be done to help understand the potential for problems.

Greg Crawford, an oceanographer with Humboldt State University and an author of the paper, said that much depends on what type of wave projects are employed.

“This stuff needs to be approached holistically,” Crawford said.

While some wave energy projects are beginning to be used around the world, there is little information on how durable they are over the long term.

As Crawford pointed out, they are deployed in particularly difficult and treacherous environments.

The report recommends starting small, both in the laboratory and with small-scale projects to help begin to understand the effects they might have when deployed on an industrial scale.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has won authorization from the federal government to study several areas off the Humboldt and Mendocino coasts, but the company recently ran into what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle from state utilities regulators on another project off Trinidad. In October, the California Public Utilities Commission denied the first wave power project it has ever considered, on the grounds that the Trinidad Head proposal isn’t viable, and the contract price to sell the power is too expensive.

A feud of sorts over final jurisdiction on wave energy projects persists between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Mines and Minerals Service (MMS). And it’s not clear exactly what agency would make the determination of whether the costs of projects outweigh their benefits, said HSU economist Steve Hackett, another author of the study.

“I think it’s a very daunting situation for the public utilities or a power company to take on,” Hackett said.

While environmental issues will be hashed out in an environmental analysis, economic effects should also be considered, Hackett said. That includes the detriments to a struggling fishing fleet and the upside of jobs from energy projects, he said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 14, 2008

kevinruddAustralian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called for a “solar revolution” on Sunday as he unveiled plans to bring forward a A$500 million (US$329 million) fund promoting renewable energy in a bid to stimulate the economy.

Speaking just a day before a key announcement on Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, Rudd said the fund’s timescale would be brought forward from the original six-year plan to the next 18 months.

“It’s good for jobs. It’s good for stimulus. It’s good for acting on climate change,” Rudd said of the move. “It’s time for Australia to begin a solar revolution, a renewable energy revolution and we’ve got to fund it for the future.”

Rudd made the announcement at the Queensland town of Windorah, where a new solar energy plant is expected to produce around 360,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year and provide the town’s daytime power needs.

The prime minister said A$100 million would be released by June 30 next year, with the remaining A$400 million to be released in the following 12 months.

The only condition, he said in an accompanying statement, was “availability of suitable demonstration projects.” Guidelines would be released early in 2009, the statement said.

The Renewable Energy Fund, which also includes work on biofuels development and geothermal drilling, was set up to help cut the cost of developing technologies that might play a key role in energy supply and security over the next few decades.

The fund was an election commitment by the ruling Labor party in last year’s election, in which Rudd defeated conservative predecessor John Howard. During the campaign Rudd set a target that 20% of Australia’s energy should be from renewable sources by 2020.

A key ‘white paper’ policy document is due on Monday setting out Australia’s official targets for emissions cuts and plans for carbon trading. Australia is widely expected to adopt a target of a 10% cut from 2000 levels by 2020.

Although Rudd has been applauded by environmentalists for his decision for Australia to join the Kyoto protocol, they also say Canberra’s actions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions have so far been inadequate.

(A$1=US$0.66)

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ELIZABETH ROSENTHAL, The New York Times, December 11, 2008

Poznan, Polan — Senator John Kerry arrived at the United Nations climate conference here on Thursday and immediately reassured delegates that the United States would take strong measures to combat climate change.

“President Obama will be like night and day compared to President Bush,” Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at a news conference, adding, “Congress and the president-elect are committed to movement on mandatory goals as rapidly as possible.”

Although the incoming president has no official representatives here, the conference center is crawling with Congressional representatives and their staff members, a sign of the political transition in the United States.

Over the past two weeks, there have been staff members from more than 50 Congressional offices, representing figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a Republican foreign policy statesman and Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, who will be the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

On Wednesday, transition team officials for Mr. Obama said he would announce his top environment team next week, which so far includes Carol M. Browner, Steven Chu and Lisa P. Jackson.

Despite elation at the new United States presence, there was widespread concern among delegates that developed nations would be less willing to make the financial investments in climate change at a time of global recession. In opening the two-day meeting of environment ministers on Thursday morning, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said there should be “no backsliding on our commitments.”

In a roundtable on Thursday, dozens of environment ministers pledged to hold to previous plans for emissions reductions. Stavros Dimas, environment director general of the European Union said, “We are determined despite economic surprises to deal with climate change.” The European Union has committed to reducing emissions 20% by 2020.

Still, other ministers made it clear that the global recession had made good works harder. “If we can bring our finance ministers back on board, we will be successful in Copenhagen,” where countries hope to arrive at a climate treaty by December 2009, said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, who reiterated his country’s goal of cutting emissions by 25% to 30% over 1990 levels by 2020.

There were some bright spots at the conference, which is part of a negotiation to create the global climate treaty. Mexico took the lead among developing countries and committed itself to emission reduction targets and caps, even though developing countries are not required to do so under the Kyoto Protocol. Brazil said it would aim to cut deforestation 70% in the next decade.

But Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, reiterated that as a developing country China should not have to make such numerical commitments, but that it would “take positive and effective mitigation and adaptation measures.” China is the world’s largest emitter.

Also, some developing countries said promises by industrial nations to help them cope with climate change seemed to have been put off. The fate of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change was unclear on Thursday.

“We are really disappointed with the progress we are seeing in Poznan,” said Amjad Abdulla, director general of the Ministry of Environment in the Maldives, a chain of low-lying islands that is threatened by rising sea levels. “We are drowning, and there is this huge gap in commitment.”

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TED NESI, Providence Business News, December 5, 2008

riThe list of suitors lining up to develop renewable energy projects off Rhode Island’s coastal waters is getting longer.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has begun reviewing a permit application from Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co., a year-old company based in Seattle, to build 100 large towers that would generate electricity from wave energy and wind turbines. The towers, which Grays Harbor says would use the same support technology as offshore oil platforms, would be located in a 96-square-mile area of federal waters 12 to 25 miles to the south of Block Island. Wind turbines could be placed on top of the towers, although that would require a separate application process. The company estimates the total cost of the project would be between $400 million and $600 million.

Grays Harbor asserts that the structures, known as Oscillating Water Columns, “will be visible from shore for only a few days a year under extremely clear visibility conditions.”

The company also says it will not need to utilize the entire 96 square miles designated in its federal permit. Instead, it will determine which section of that area would be the most conducive to wind-energy generation.

News of the proposed project comes as state officials continue work on an Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the coastal waters off Rhode Island – a project undertaken in part to facilitate permitting of a $1.5-billion offshore wind farm backed by Gov. Donald L. Carcieri. However, the project proposed by Grays Harbor is outside the area to be covered by the Ocean SAMP.

Rhode Island officials said the company’s application took them by surprise: Grover Fugate, executive director of the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, found out about it when the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) forwarded a copy of the document to him as a courtesy.

“It was news to us, when we heard from MMS,” said Laura Ricketson-Dwyer, spokeswoman for CRMC. “But that’s not totally uncommon,” since the CRMC does not have jurisdiction over federal waters. “FERC did not have to notify us.”

The electricity would be transmitted from the converters into an offshore substation, and then the power would be sent to Block Island via a single transmission cable buried about three feet beneath the sea floor. Part of that energy would be used on Block Island, which has some of the highest electricity costs in the country, and the rest would be transmitted to the mainland, coming ashore in the Narragansett village of Jerusalem.

Grays Harbor says it is already in negotiations “with a consortium of local utilities and companies” for them to purchase electricity from the project, and says existing overhead cables could handle the additional load it creates.

Although local officials have doubts about the prospects for wave energy here, Grays Harbor says prior research has given the company confidence it could work in the area. “The site proposed therefore is not speculative,” Grays Harbor president W. Burton Hamner wrote in a letter to FERC Secretary Magalie Salas. “It is the best place for the only technology package we believe will work in that region.” Hamner’s company cites a 2004 study published by the Electric Power Research Institute that said a 100-megawatt wave energy project would be competitive with a 100-megawatt wind farm. But that study looked at wave-energy resources in Massachusetts, not Rhode Island, and Grays Harbor acknowledges in its permit that “Rhode Island wave energy is less than [in] Massachusetts.”

Grays Harbor is specifically applying for a preliminary permit from FERC, which would allow the company to do in-depth research on the project for three years. From there, the company would apply for a pilot project permit, which would allow it to build a 5-megawatt demonstration version of the project. If the pilot project is successful, the company would apply for a standard 30-year FERC permit to build the full-scale development. If all were to go as Grays Harbor hopes, the company expects to have the 5-megawatt demonstration project up and running in 2011, with the full project to follow in 2016.

Grays Harbor cited two issues that could hamper the project: One is the structures’ possible impact on navigation lanes, although the company downplayed the likelihood of that being a problem. The other is the project’s possible impact on fishermen.

“There is no question that where there are wave-energy systems, recreational and commercial fishing will be affected,” the company says in its application. “This is unavoidable because of the conflicting use of the ocean space.” To reduce the project’s impact on fisheries, Grays Harbor said it is considering turning the wave structures into “artificial reefs … that can support fish and other marine organisms.”

The public has until January 28, 2009 to comment on the proposal at the commission’s web site.  The permit application for the Rhode Island offshore wave energy project was filed by Grays Harbor on October 22 and processed by FERC on November 28.

On the same day it submitted its application to develop the Block Island project, Grays Harbor filed applications for nearly identical projects off Cape Cod, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and San Francisco and Ventura, Calif.

And in July, the company was granted a preliminary FERC permit for a similar project in Washington state. “Our intention in applying for nearly identical projects in several sites is to achieve significant economics of scale in site evaluation and to help federal agencies develop effective agreements regarding management of ocean renewable-energy projects,” Hamner wrote in his letter to Salas.

But all the projects depend in part on the outcome of a bureaucratic turf war between two federal agencies:

  • The MMS, which was granted jurisdiction over most offshore energy projects by a 2005 federal energy law to the MMS, but which is still completing its final regulations for offshore projects.
  • And the FERC, which already has jurisdiction over inland hydroelectric projects, and this fall asserted its right to review and permit wave-energy projects as well.

Unsurprisingly, Grays Harbor has sided with FERC and agreed that the commission has authority over wave-energy projects. But the company also said the MMS still has jurisdiction over leasing the area in question – an issue the FERC has promised to work out.

In its permit application, Grays Harbor promised to work closely with state and local authorities. The company raised the prospect of establishing public development authorities with area communities to establish co-ownership of the project, and also says it “will develop a Settlement Agreement with stakeholders.”

Grays Harbor also pledged to hire local workers for the project, if possible. “The Providence area has capabilities for manufacturing wave energy converters and every attempt will be made to locally construct the machinery needed for the project,” the company says in its application.

Ricketson-Dwyer, the CRMC spokeswoman, said she is not surprised to see more companies moving quickly to develop ocean-energy projects. “People are – no pun intended – entering the waters here and getting into this.”

The CRMC plans to keep an eye on what happens over the next few weeks, she said, adding: “It’s really to early for us to even know if we have any role in any of this.” Meanwhile, Ricketson-Dwyer said, the proposal underlines the need to finish the state’s Ocean SAMP, in order to streamline the permitting process for offshore energy projects.

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PAUL GIPE, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, December 4, 2008

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced to much fanfare on November 24 that the city’s municipal utility would launch one of the continent’s largest solar power programs. The mayor’s plan would direct the city’s municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), to build or purchase 1,300 MW of solar energy by 2020.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs.

Among provisions of the plan is a feed-in tariff for 150 MW of solar photovoltaics by 2016. This is the first official announcement of a feed-in tariff proposal by a California city, but it is not the first in the United States. Gainesville, Florida previously announced that it was formally considering a feed-in tariff to replace its solar rebate program.

Recently, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported that Palm Desert, California was also considering solar feed-in tariffs after city officials toured Spain, one of the world’s leading developers of solar energy. Spain uses feed-in tariffs.

LADWP is the continent’s largest municipal utility. It was briefly at the forefront of solar energy development in California from 1999 to 2003, before inexplicably abandoning its program.

The city and LADWP provided no details on the solar feed-in tariff or on the other renewable energy proposals that were part of the mayor’s press release. There were no further details on LADWP’s web site. Photos of wind turbines on the web site were standard stock photos and all were of wind turbines outside the utility’s service area.

LADWP claims that 8.5% of its electricity currently comes from renewables and that the utility is on track to meet its 20% target by 2010. The last report on the utility’s web site about its renewable energy program, however, is dated 2003, the year the utility canceled its successful solar program.

Los Angeles’ 120 MW Pine Tree wind project is slated to come on line in 2009. The project also is outside of the Los Angeles Basin, just north of the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.

Interestingly, it was a municipal utility that launched the modern version of Germany’s famed feed-in tariffs. Aachen introduced the first solar-specific feed-in tariff in the mid-1990s. Subsequently other German cities followed suit. In 2000 Germany’s parliament incorporated the concept behind Aachen’s policy in its groundbreaking system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs.

Municipal utilities in the Americas may be able to emulate Aachen and be the first to launch true feed-in tariffs. Because municipal utilities are governed by city officials, they can be more responsive to public demands for action on renewable energy than the often more distant state or provincial legislatures.

Tortonto Hydro, North America’s second largest and Canada’s largest municipal utility, briefly considered a solar PV feed-in tariff in 2007, but took no action. The proposal before Toronto Hydro employed a differentiated feed-in tariff that was intended to work with the province of Ontario’s Standard Offer Contract Program.

The proposal of Gainsville Regional Utilities (GRU) is the most advanced in the United States. GRU’s commission has ordered preparation of a tariff.

In contrast to Gainesville’s approach, LADWP made public little or no information on the details of its proposal. GRU prepared a detailed report which it presented to Gainesville’s utility commission when the utility went public with its proposal.

Los Angeles incorporates Hollywood within its city boundaries and there’s always an element of showmanship in its pronouncements. The city’s proposal is aggressive, more than one-third of the California Solar Initiative’s 3,000 MW of solar PV, if it is more than simply aspirational.

The portion of the plan devoted to a feed-in tariff is about one-tenth of the entire program. Countries that have been the most successful at rapidly developing renewable energy (Germany, France, and Spain) use feed-in tariffs as the principal if not only policy mechanism.

Despite the uncritical media accounts of the “world’s most ambitious solar plan,” attention has focused not only on the targets, but also on the various mechanisms that may be used to reach those targets, including feed-in tariffs.

Regardless of how or even whether it follows through, Los Angeles, as one of North America’s largest cities, has put feed-in tariffs, at least for solar, on the continent’s public policy map.

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LORRAINE WOELLERT, Bloomberg, December 2, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is considering a stimulus package that will include a heavy dose of spending on environmentally friendly projects aimed at creating “green-collar jobs” and saving energy.

While the package will focus on short-term outlays for traditional infrastructure projects to jumpstart an economy now officially declared to be in recession, it will also include longer-term measures to safeguard the environment.

“Clean energy is going to be a foundation for rebuilding the American economy,” said Bracken Hendricks, an analyst at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress and an adviser to the presidential-transition team. Generating jobs in concert with cutting pollution will be “a major component” of any economic-recovery plan, Hendricks said.

Obama wants to enact a recovery plan soon after his inauguration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters today that any proposal would have to be “robust” and include at least $400 billion in spending, though he wouldn’t rule out a bigger package. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Obama’s closest Senate ally, and Charles Schumer of New York argue that an infusion of as much as $700 billion is warranted.

Reid said a green jobs component could be worth as much as $100 billion. He has endorsed investment in improved electricity transmission infrastructure and other ideas being put forth by Obama advisers.

‘Green Path’ Infrastructure

Obama adviser Jared Bernstein and other economists say that money would help fund environmentally sound infrastructure projects that could be up and running within a few months. Among the steps along the “green path,” Bernstein said, might be a requirement that repairs made to public buildings be environmentally friendly.

“Almost any major infrastructure project is going to be done in the greenest way possible,” said Alice Rivlin, a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve who has spoken with members of the transition team about the package. “There will be spending for quick-starting infrastructure as well as for larger, better-thought-out programs over several years.”

A critical mass of support for clean-energy spending and green-collar-job creation is building among environmentalists, labor groups, local governments and companies such as Google Inc. and American Electric Power Co., the biggest U.S. producer of electricity from coal.

Creating Jobs

The loosely knit coalition is advocating for what Hendricks calls a “green recovery” stimulus that would create jobs with an eye toward conserving resources and reducing reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

School repairs, for example, could be required to meet green building standards, including low-energy boilers and weatherization. Transportation spending could emphasize public transit, and support for new power sources such as wind and energy could go hand in hand with spending on an efficient electricity superhighway.

Ideas include $2 billion in spending on public transit to reduce fares and expand service, $5 billion in renewable-energy bonds for consumer-owned utilities, $2.5 billion to buy and scrap old polluting cars, and $900 million to help weatherize one million homes.

‘Smart Grid’

Google is among the companies lobbying for long-term tax rebates for renewable energy as well as federal investment in electric “smart grid” technology that promises to lower energy use by creating two-way communication between energy providers and consumers.

Both provisions would create high-technology jobs, said Harry Wingo, energy policy counsel for Google, which has been meeting with Obama advisers and Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Green-jobs provisions “are going to lead to more job creation here and put us in a better spot to compete for the global market in clean energy,” Wingo said.

Other ideas include regulatory changes that could lead to less energy use and electricity-infrastructure improvements, said Susan Tomasky, president of AEP Transmission in Toledo.

The idea is to build new and better transmission lines to link the sunniest and windiest regions to the national grid.

AEP is among companies pushing for stimulus language that would make it easier to finance and site electricity infrastructure. It also wants Obama to formalize his campaign’s embrace of “an interstate highway system for transmission.”

Delivery Systems

“Obama gets that you can’t just build windmills and wish for the power to get where it needs to go,” Tomasky said. “It is all about infrastructure.”

Some groups are sounding a cautionary note. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy embraced the notion of creating jobs in renewable energy industries while warning against government overreaching.

“Whenever government tries to pick winners and losers, whether through burdensome regulations, central planning, or open-ended subsidies, it fails and taxpayers and consumers pay the price,” the institute said in a Nov. 17 report.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has criticized the green-jobs concept as big-government spending that would do little to stimulate growth.

‘Crisis du Jour’

“The people who have wanted these green initiatives are wrapping them up in the crisis du jour, the stimulus,” said David Kreutzer, a senior policy analyst at Heritage in Washington. “You have to pull resources out of some other part of the economy for government to spend it on green jobs. You don’t get a net job increase.”

Nonetheless, businesses are lining up behind the idea. In addition to big power consumers such as Google and utilities such as AEP, venture capitalists such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers support the green jobs concept and are lobbying for green provisions to be included in the stimulus.

“There’s a clear majority who want to do this,” said Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council On Renewable Energy, a Washington-based group of business leaders, academics and venture capitalists.

Even the simplest ideas could save energy and create jobs, said Jason Saragian, a spokesman for Owens Corning Inc., a Toledo, Ohio-based maker of insulation as well as material used in wind turbine blades. The company is pushing for tax breaks to encourage retrofitting of older buildings.

‘Huge Opportunity’

“There are 80 million underinsulated homes in the United States,” Saragian said. Buildings emit 42% of the nation’s greenhouse gasses. Weatherization “is a huge opportunity” to cut energy use, Saragian said.

State and city leaders are also making a pitch. Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, chairman of the National Governors Association, said a stimulus should consist of increased spending on programs such as unemployment compensation, federal aid to states, and infrastructure for renewable energy. “There are upwards of $136 billion worth of projects ready to go,” Rendell told reporters.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has its own list of some $25 billion worth of infrastructure projects that could be completed in 2009.

“The challenge is to make a green stimulus actually green,” said Dan Becker, a consultant with the Safe Climate Campaign, a Washington-based clean-air advocacy group. “The more road building you have the blacker it gets.”

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GERRY NORLANDER, Pulp Network, November 25, 2008

President-elect Obama has named Dr. Susan Tierney and Rose McKinney-James to his transition team for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is organizationally within DOE.

Both appointees, former state utility commissioners of Massachusetts and Nevada, respectively, have a record of supporting electricity industry deregulation, or, as it is euphemistically named, “restructuring.” 

Thirty five states did not restructure, no state has restructured since 2000, and several states halted plans to adopt it when they saw its results in states like California and New York. 

The “restructuring” model strips the power generation function away from state-regulated utilities under the premise that the generation function can be deregulated if it is structured to be competitive. An implicit assumption of restructuring, which we reject, is that if the market price of a utility service is “competitive” it will then necessarily satisfy the legal requirement of being “just and reasonable.”

This regulatory fad peaked in the last decade of the last century when it was lavishly promoted by Enron’s Ken Lay, embraced by some state regulators, accepted by both the Clinton and Bush administrations, and pushed by FERC. FERC’s regime now lacks consumer support and confidence. 

To bring about functionally deregulated wholesale electricity markets without statutory authorization, FERC administratively morphed the Federal Power Act system of filed rate regulation into one of unfiled, unreviewable, and unrefundable wholesale market rates. The FERC system is now built upon “organized” spot markets for wholesale electricity such as those run by the NYISO and other Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs), where energy is sold by sellers with “market-based rates.”

The FERC system has its greatest impact in restructured states that allowed utilities to sell off power plants whose output had been priced based on the cost of production, requiring most electricity to be bought at wholesale “market-based rates” eventually passed through to retail customers.   

Mathematical game theory, economics lab simulations, and experience demonstrate that the wholesale electricity spot markets that are at the heart of restructuring can be gamed and manipulated to drive prices well above competitive levels beyond the capacity or will of FERC to correct.

Even for those who would conflate the notions of competitiveness and reasonableness, the generation function is increasingly dominated by fewer large companies as the industry consolidates, undercutting the notion that many sellers will someday make electricity a buyer’s market and preclude the need for rate regulation. 

According to Duke Power CEO James Rogers, in light of the recent financial market developments,

“I think within 18 months you’ll see either consolidation or acquisition of all of [the major independent power producers].”

“The case for consolidation in our industry is more compelling today than it’s been in my 20-year career as CEO because of what’s going on in capital markets, because of the economy we’re in and no growth….”

Although most consumer groups are disappointed by the results of restructuring, major utility holding companies formed as a result of restructuring and the repeal of PUHCA, investment banking institutions, energy producers and wholesale traders, deregulated retail sells and the energy derivatives industry still push hard for preservation and expansion of the restructuring model.

Proponents of deregulation such as EPSA and the NYISO occasionally announce reports or studies purporting to show advantages of deregulation. Typically, these reports and studies have loopy methodologies, fail to address how the ISO/RTO markets actually affect consumer prices, and fail to pass any reasonable test of academic rigor. Stated John Kwoka, Northeastern University, in his findings, there is no “reliable and convincing evidence that consumers are better off as a result of the restructuring of the U.S. electric power industry.”

The Obama FERC Transition Team

Dr. Susan Tierney
Dr. Tierney, a consultant with the Analysis Group, has also been mentioned in the trade press as a possible candidate for FERC Chairman. With Cornell degrees in regional planning, she has a long, extensive and varied background in energy issues, including work for the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration. Her biography indicates that in recent years a significant part of her consulting work has been on behalf of electric utilities and industry stakeholders in defense of electric industry deregulation or “restructuring.” 

Rose McKinney-James 
According to Obama’s Change.gov web site, another transition team member, apparently overseeing the FERC appointments, is Rose McKinney-James:  

Rose McKinney-James is the Managing Principal of Energy Works Consulting. Previously she served as the President and CEO of the Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources (CSTRR) and Chair of the Nevada Renewable Energy Task Force. Past positions also include Commissioner with the Nevada Public Service Commission, Director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, Chief of Staff for the City of Las Vegas and Project Manager for the Nevada Economic Development Corporation. McKinney-James serves on the Board of Directors of MGM-Mirage, Employers Insurance Group, Toyota Financial Savings Bank, the Energy Foundation, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), and the Nature Conservancy. She is the Board Chair for Nevada Partners.

According to Politico,

Rose McKinney-James single-handedly will lead the review on Federal Regulation and Oversight of Energy. She has a strong background in renewable energy and is currently the managing principal of Energy Works Consulting. She previously served as president and CEO of the Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources.

James was formerly a Nevada utility regulator. After the Western states experienced the results of market manipulation, she, along with numerous former state utility commissioners from restructured states, signed onto a 2003 Declaration of Consumer Benefits from Wholesale Power Markets, a statement indicating support for the restructuring model.  Since then, however, James appears not to have been actively involved in the continued promotion of restructuring and she reportedly has a keen interest in renewable energy. 

Conclusion

We would certainly be more hopeful of change in the interests of consumers if the DOE/FERC transition team more reflected the judgment of most states not to restructure, and better realized the experience of consumers in the states that did. Nevertheless, it cannot be assumed that Obama transition team members will recommend candidates for key positions who would continue the relentless restructuring efforts of past administrations without reflection upon the results to date and without heeding consumer concerns. 

Perhaps it is a hopeful sign of change that the latest rumored candidate for a FERC position is John H. Norris,  Chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board. Iowa, a state that once considered but did not adopt restructuring.

Update, December 4, 2008

The Longview Washington Daily News, in a story about the controversial Bradwood LNG terminal project for the Columbia River, states:

Obama also could reshape FERC itself.

Terms of the four FERC commissioners who voted in favor of the Bradwood project will expire during Obama’s first term, starting in 2009, Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail. The other three commissioners’ terms expire in 2010, 2011 and 2012. (Commissioners serve five-year terms.)

Obama can also appoint a new FERC chairman. That would shift the current chairman, Joseph Kelliher, into a regular commissioner seat. It’s unclear whether Kelliher would finish out his term, which lasts through 2012, if he is removed from the chairman’s position.

When asked about his plans, Young-Allen noted, Kelliher has said, “When I have something to announce, I will tell you.”

VandenHeuvel, of Riverkeeper, speculated that Obama will appoint Jon Wellinghoff as the new chairman. Wellinghoff is a Nevada Democrat who was the only FERC member to oppose the Bradwood terminal in the September vote.

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KEVIN FERGUSON, The Information Week, November 24, 2008

1739725132_460c52d56dWhere is President-elect Barack Obama headed with environmental protection and renewable energy? The answer lies not so much in the encouraging but ultimately self-serving video posted on the transition team’s Web site, but rather on links elsewhere on the page. In particular, look at the appointment of senior transition official Rose McKinney-James as FERC Review Team Lead.

Unless you live in California or Nevada, you may not be familiar with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  FERC — a relatively tiny agency that requested only $273.4 million and 1,465 full-time employees in its FY 2009 budget — regulates the country’s natural gas industry, hydroelectric projects, oil pipelines, and wholesale rates for electricity. You may recall that public advocacy groups excoriated FERC for its role in the deregulation of the wholesale electricity market in California and subsequent power crisis in 2000 and 2001.

So, what’s the significance of this recent appointment? McKinney-James, managing principal of Energy Works Consulting, has been championing renewable energy for decades, as the president and CEO of the public Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources (CSTRR), chair of the Nevada Renewable Energy Task Force, commissioner with the Nevada Public Service Commission, and other pubic posts.

Her efforts also have included renewable energy advocacy in the private sector — and in some rather unexpected places. The most visible of those places is MGM Mirage’s  Protech CityCenter in Las Vegas. McKinney-James sits on the MGM board.

The $7 billion development was recently awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Project CityCenter includes a 4,000-room hotel-casino, two 400-room boutique hotels, more than 500,000 square feet of retail space, and 2,900 residential units on 66 acres between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo.

Perhaps McKinney-James can accelerate what has been a slow accommodation of renewable energy sources into FERC’s mix.

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TODD WOODY, Green Wombat @ Fortune Magazine, November 13, 2008

The wind, solar and geothermal industries have wasted no time pressing the incoming Obama administration to implement an alternative energy agenda to spur investment and create jobs.

During a conference call Thursday, the leaders of the Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association and other trade groups lobbied for a plethora of legislation and policy initiatives. None of these proposals are new, but given Barack Obama’s campaign promises to promote alternative energy and the strengthened Democratic majority in Congress, the industry has the best chance in many years of seeing this wish list made real.

  • A five-year extension of the production tax credit for the wind industry (it currently has to be renewed every year) to remove uncertainty for investors.
  • A major infrastructure program to upgrade the transmission grid so wind, solar and geothermal energy can be transmitted from the remote areas where it is produced to major cities. Obama advisor Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently joined with General Electric chief Jeff Immelt to launch a joint initiative to develop such smart grid technology as well as push for policy changes in Washington to allow the widespread deployment of renewable energy by rebuilding the nation’s transmission system.
  • Impose a national “renewable portfolio standard” that would mandate that utilities obtain a minimum 10% of their electricity from green sources by 2012 and at least 25% by 2020. Two-thirds of the states currently impose variations of such requirements.
  • Mandate that the federal government – the nation’s single largest consumer of electricity – obtain more energy from renewable sources.
  • Enact a cap-and-trade carbon market.

“If the administration and Congress can quickly implement these policies, renewable energy growth will help turn around the economic decline while at the same time addressing some of our most pressing national security and environmental problems,” the green energy trade groups said in a joint statement.

No doubt those measures are crucial to spurring development of renewable energy and creating green collar jobs. But the major obstacle confronting the alt energy industry right now is the credit crunch that is choking off financing for big wind and solar projects and scaring away investors from more cutting-edge but potentially promising green technologies.

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MendoCoastCurrent, November 18, 2007

Developing Wave Energy in Coastal California: Potential Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects, authored by a team of scientists from H.T. Harvey and Associates, UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, UC Santa Cruz, the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research, Planwest Partners and Humboldt State University, and jointly funded by the California Ocean Protection Council and the California Energy Commission, is now available for free download at www.resources.ca.gov/copc/.

In a letter announcing the report, California Secretary of State Mike Chrisman notes it reviews the social, economic and environmental issues associated with wave energy technologies in California, and identifies specific research needed to further evaluate its potential effects. He adds that it also identifies the largest information gaps in these social and ecological disciplines: environmental economics, nearshore physical processes, nearshore intertidal and benthic habitats, and the ecology of marine and anadromous fishes, marine birds and marine mammals.

At over 200-pages, MendoCoastCurrent is now digesting the long-awaited read.

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MendoCoastCurrent, November 9, 2008

frankhartzellMendoCoastCurrent applauds Frank Hartzell’s reporting in the Fort Bragg Advocate-News and the Mendocino Beacon, and in winning reporting awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Better Newspapers Contest for work published in 2007. The awards were recently announced at CNPA’s annual awards luncheon in late October 2008.

Reporter Frank Hartzell’s on-going, in-depth and insightful coverage of the Mendocino coast’s wave energy development projects won First Place for Environmental & Agricultural Resource Reporting among weeklies with small circulations.

Mr. Hartzell is a key community forerunner in informing and deciphering both technological and governmental policies, developments and environmental impact(s) of the forward-moving ocean power technology developments on the Mendocino coast.  Many now consider Fort Bragg and the Mendocino coast “Ground Zero” in U.S. wave energy commercial development.

Mark Massara, head of the California Coastal Program for the Sierra Club, credited Mr. Hartzell’s coverage as the only in-depth information about wave energy being written.  And local people have generated the only viable criticism of the process, he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a key player in federal energy policy, has extensively quoted Mr. Hartzell’s coverage, even cataloging and creating timelines from his authored newspaper articles.

Thank you, Frank Hartzell, for your superb work in researching and educating the Mendocino coast community in wave energy developments and in supporting us to act from knowledge in our role as environmental stewards.

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MARTIN LAMONICA, CNET, November 5, 2008

Energy and environmental policy is poised for dramatic change under an Obama administration even with a slumping economy.

With the incoming administration and Congress, renewable energy advocates and environmentalists said they anticipate a comprehensive national energy plan focused on fostering clean-energy technologies.

“The election is over. Now the hard work begins,” wrote Dan Farber, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the lobbying group Cleantech & Green Business for Obama. “Change is on the way.”

Obama’s energy plan, detailed fully earlier this year, is ambitious. It calls for a $150 billion investment in clean technologies over 10 years, aggressive targets for greenhouse emission reductions, and programs to promote energy efficiency, low-carbon biofuels, and renewable energies.

But a troubled economy–among other barriers–means that bold, new energy legislation, notably caps on greenhouse gas emissions, is unlikely to pass in the first years of an Obama administration, according to experts.

Instead, the Obama presidency is expected to first push for smaller yet significant measures, such as efficiency and renewable energy mandates, and then lay the groundwork for far-reaching climate initiatives, they said.

“One of the biggest setbacks is trying to find the money to pay for all of this. This isn’t free,” said David Kurzman, managing director of Kurzman CleanTech Research. “Reality will set in and trying to find money…is really going to temper the possibilities over the next 12 months.”

Winners and losers
Cleantech company executives note that during the campaign, Obama articulated his belief that environmental protection and economic development can be closely related. During Obama’s acceptance speech Tuesday night, his reference to “new energy to harness and new jobs to be created” could be read in two ways–a call for political involvement or for alternative-energy sources.

In an interview with Time magazine in October 2008, he said, “From a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.”

Cleantech professionals expect that energy and the environment, which were hot-button issues during the campaign, to continue to command the attention of politicians and the electorate. And the combination of a Democratic-controlled Congress and Obama administration means that government stimulus spending targeted at the energy business is a strong possibility.

“There’s a growing sense that investing in infrastructure, even if it means more deficit spending, is a good thing because it will help economic growth in the short and long term,” said Ethan Zindler of research firm New Energy Finance. “And green energy has come to be regarded as a 21st-century infrastructure play.”

Some technologies stand to benefit more than others if Obama’s administration is successful in implementing its proposals.

Renewable energies. Obama has called for a national renewable portfolio standard to mandate that utilities get 10% of electricity from renewable sources–wind, solar, and geothermal–by 2012, and 25% by 2025. “That’s the backbone the country needs to invest in,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Although more than half the states already have renewable portfolio standards, many southern states have balked at national standards because they say they do not have sufficient renewable energy resources.

In this case, having an activist federal government, as Obama’s proposals suggest, may meet resistance from the states because electric utilities are regulated by a mix state and federal agencies. “It’s not just a question of money. It’s also a question of governance and public policy,” said Jim Owen, a representative for the Edison Electrical Institute.

In the recently passed financial bailout package, solar energy received an eight-year extension of federal tax credits, while wind received only a one-year extension. The election increases the chances that wind energy will be extended further.

Efficiency and smart grid technology. Obama’s plan calls for a power grid modernization program and stricter building efficiency codes in federal buildings. That means efficiency products such as demand response, advanced metering and sensors to monitor usage should further benefit from government incentives, said Kurzman.

A federal initiative to establish interconnection standards and bulk up interstate transmission lines would make power generation of all kinds more efficient and allow utilities to use more renewable sources. “A 50-state role to transmission just doesn’t get the job done. You need a federal planning and facilitation,” said Rob Church, vice president of research and industry analysis at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

Biofuels. Hailing from the corn-producing state of Illinois, Obama is expected to continue supporting ethanol. However, Brooke Coleman, executive director of the New Fuels Alliance, noted that Obama appears to understand that the biofuels industry needs to transition to nonfood feedstocks, such as wood chips or algae, in order to be sustainable.

Coleman said that strong federal policies are required for biofuels to crack into the fossil fuel industry.

“There is not a free market in the fuel sector. There’s no real competition in the wholesale supply chain–it’s completely owned by oil,” Coleman said. “You have to be pretty heavy-handed to fundamentally correct this market.”

Auto. Obama has called for increasing fuel efficiency, tax credits for plug-in hybrid cars, and loan guarantees so that automakers can “retool.”

But struggling auto makers–said to be running dangerously low on cash–will need government aid in the coming months to prevent larger harm to the economy, argued David Cole, the chairman for the Center for Automotive Research. For that reason, he expects government leaders of all kinds to be supportive.

“Politically, the issue here is pretty stark and cost of keeping the auto industry in game is whole lot less than of a major failure,” Cole said.

Fossil fuels and nuclear. During the campaign, Obama said he would allow increased domestic oil and gas drilling as well as investments in so-called clean coal technology where carbon emissions are stored underground. Companies that have coal gasification technologies stand to benefit because they are cleaner source of electricity, said Kurzman.

In the campaign, Obama voiced caution on storing nuclear waste. But during the second presidential debate, Obama said he backs nuclear power “as one component of our overall energy mix.”

Skip Bowman, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Tuesday he expects the new Congress and administration to continue its support of nuclear because it addresses energy and climate change.

Counting carbon
Longer term, the broadest policy change on energy and environment will be climate-change regulations. Obama has called for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 through a federal cap and trade system. Pollution rights would be auctioned, at least partially, which would create a fund for clean technology programs.

Large polluters, like chemical companies and utilities that rely heavily on coal, are the ones that will be most affected. But given that there is stronger political will to tackle energy security than climate change, policies to promote domestic energy production and efficiency are likely to take precedence over cap and trade, said New Energy Finance’s Zindler.

Still, the new administration can accomplish a great deal on renewable energy without having to pass multibillion-dollar legislation, said Scott Sklar, a renewable energy lobbyist and president of the Stella Group. Using only the federal government’s purchasing power to integrate green building technologies and addressing grid interconnection issues, for example, can be done without passing laws.

“Existing programs can be tweaked to accommodate the new vision,” Sklar said. “Depending on how you structure things, you could have a quick and profound impact on new technologies.”

New Fuel Alliance’s Coleman said that the biggest danger to the Obama administration and new Congress is not “overplaying their hand” and pushing more extreme environmental policies.

“I firmly believe that the linchpin to this entire game is allowing agriculture to play a role in diversifying our energy, whether it be wind, solar, using rural areas for geothermal or wind corridors,” he said. “More extreme positions like trying to end coal result in failure and missed opportunities.”

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Publisher Note:  FERC Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher announced his resignation effective January 20, 2009.

GERRY NORLANDER, Pulp Network, November 5, 2008

With the election of a new president comes renewed speculation about leadership change at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in an Obama administration.

The president . . . can designate a new chairman, who generally will belong to the party in the White House. But the president must await a commission vacancy to actually appoint a new commissioner and shift the balance of power if there is a change of party. No more than three commissioners can belong to the same party, so currently FERC has three Republican commissioners and two Democrats. Normally, however, a chairman who is replaced will not want to remain as a commissioner and will resign. 

Currently FERC is filled with a bipartisan cadre of five pro-deregulation commissioners, all appointed by President Bush, who appear intent on approving mega mergers of utility holding companies and implementing the discredited Enron agenda to supplant traditional regulation with reliance on unfiled, unreviewable, and unrefundable “market-based rates” and “organized” spot markets such as those run by the NYISO.

As with recent presidents of both parties, the incoming president received significant campaign financial support from utility executives, investment bankers, and energy traders who still promote electricity deregulation, but hope still remains for change in the interest of consumers, for whose protection the Federal Power Act was enacted in 1935.

President Obama will name a new FERC Chair, to replace the current Chairman, Joseph T. Kelliher.  A former lobbyist, congressional staff lawyer for Texas Rep. Joe Barton, and coordinator of Vice President Cheney’s controversial energy task force, Kelliher steadily continued the agency’s efforts to deregulate wholesale electric rates. Under his leadership FERC continued its unresponsiveness to widespread consumer concerns about unreasonable rates and problems with the spot markets and “market-based rates” FERC approved in an effort to supplant traditional filed rate regulation.  Although he received Senate confirmation of a new term earlier this year, it has been reported that Kelliher agreed with Senator Harry Reid to resign if a democrat is elected President. That time has now come.

Commissioner Suedeen Kelly was mentioned a year ago as a possible FERC Chair in a democratic administration. A protege of deregulation democrat Senator Bingamon, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resourcees Committee, she was formerly an energy industry lobbyist, law professor, Chair of the New Mexico Public Service Commission, and was an attorney for the California ISO. It is not clear, however, if the democratic president envisioned last year when her name was floated for Chair was Barack Obama. If, instead of becoming Chair, another chair is picked, Commissioner Kelly might move on when her seat becomes vacant June 30, 2009.

Assuming that Chairman Kelliher leaves, will the two other republican commissioners making up the current majority — Marc Spitzer (former Arizona utility regulator and republican cousin of former New York Governer Eliot Spitzer) and Philip Moeller (a former utility lobbyist) — stay on under a new Chairman? 

FERC has grown in importance to electricity consumers in states like New York that allowed their utilities to sell their power plants (formerly operated on a state-regulated cost of service basis) to new owners with “market-based rates” from whom they now must buy power for customers based on what the market will bear in flawed FERC-approved spot markets. It is thus essential for the new President’s FERC picks to be sensitive to more than the usual major utility, power generators, energy traders, lobbyists, and other institutional market “stakeholders.” The new picks must be more dedicated than the current FERC to the achievement of just and reasonable electricity rates, as the Federal Power Act requires. 

UPDATE:

November 25, 2008 — Obama Picks Transition Team for DOE, FERC.

December 8, 2008 — Las Vegas Review Journal says U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid supports Jon Wellinghoff for FERC Chairman:

At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, one of two Democrats is Reid ally Jon Wellinghoff, a former Nevada public utility consumer advocate. In Washington, Wellinghoff has aggressively pushed for energy efficiency and renewable technology, Energy Daily reported.

Asked about Wellinghoff in a recent interview with the Review-Journal, Reid said he definitely believes the Nevadan should chair the FERC.

December 18, 2008 — Other names floated for FERC commissioners or chairmen include two state utility commission chairmen, Charles Box from the Illinois ICC and John Norris from the Iowa Utilities Board.

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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.

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MendoCoastCurrent, A Message from Richard Charter, September 29, 2008

The 27-year congressional offshore drilling moratorium will quietly lapse at midnight this Tuesday, September 30. Representing one of the most significant reversals of conservation protection in our time, this tragic event may be overshadowed in the media by the single most threatening economic crisis since the Great Depression.

We are also hearing that we may yet face a last-minute Senate Floor vote on an unspecified proposal by Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina this week, having to do with litigation and expedited OCS leasing.

As a Nation, our Founders long ago established the hallowed tradition of not unnecessarily trashing every part of our natural heritage, and Congress was able to extend this important tradition of preservation to our most sensitive coastal waters by maintaining the OCS moratorium throughout the past twenty-seven years.

During this period of struggle for our coasts, we have had a good run. We need to now rededicate ourselves to the health of our oceans and to the protection of our coastal environment as a matter of survival, and recommit our collective efforts in a new Congress and in each of our states to restoring what has been temporarily taken from us this year in the largest land-grab in U.S. history, while preparing to rebuild similar new protection for our coastal waters in a new Administration.

Our task will not be easy, but it has never been easy. The oil industry is funding Newt Gingrich to hold a big raucus celebration of their “energy independence victory” in Atlanta on Tuesday, but we will not be holding a wake for our coast. We know in our hearts that, in the words of the late David Brower, we are not yet so desperate that we must burn our cathedrals for firewood.

Greed may have temporarily triumphed in the short term through the generous distribution of petrodollars in Congress and the idiotic falsehoods and senseless fear spread by the likes of Fox News, but there is absolutely no other practical path ahead than to pursue an efficient transition to a new energy ethic to be constructively applied throughout the industrial world, beginning in an America that once again leads by positive example.

Attached are some suggested messaging points(HERE) for your consideration and use leading up to this week’s inevitable questions from reporters, and to the potential Senate vote on the DeMint legislation. The oil industry already appears to be planting numerous editorials in coastal states to the effect that residents need not worry, drilling rigs will not appear anytime soon, and these same industry PR efforts are sowing disinformation to the effect that individual states will be able to prevent offshore drilling if they don’t want it.

Thanking every single person who sent emails, wrote condolences, and who shed tears these past few days over just how inept and uncaring Congress could be at this time, thanking each and every single one of you who spent countless hours of volunteer time, some for three decades, to save the coast for our grandchildren, and most of all, reminding you, as if you needed it, that this is absolutely NOT over…

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, September 23, 2008

For years, technological visionaries have painted a seductive vision of using ocean tides and waves to produce power. They foresee large installations off the coast and in tidal estuaries that could provide as much as 10% of the nation’s electricity.

But the technical difficulties of making such systems work are proving formidable. Last year, a wave-power machine sank off the Oregon coast. Blades have broken off experimental tidal turbines in New York’s turbulent East River. Problems with offshore moorings have slowed the deployment of snakelike generating machines in the ocean off Portugal.

Years of such problems have discouraged ocean-power visionaries, but have not stopped them. Lately, spurred by rising costs for electricity and for the coal and other fossil fuels used to produce it, they are making a new push to overcome the barriers blocking this type of renewable energy.

The Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power plans to turn on a small wave-energy farm — the world’s first — off the coast of Portugal by year’s end, after fixing the broken moorings. Finavera Renewables, a Canadian company that recently salvaged its sunken, $2.5 million Oregon wave-power machine, has signed an agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric to produce power off the California coast by 2012. And in the East River, just off Manhattan, two newly placed turbines with tougher blades and rotors are feeding electricity into a grocery store and parking garage on Roosevelt Island.

“It’s frustrating sometimes as an ocean energy company to say, yeah, your device sank,” said Jason Bak, chief executive of Finavera. “But that is technology development.”

Roughly 100 small companies around the world are working on converting the sea’s power to electricity. Many operate in Europe, where governments have pumped money into the industry. Companies and governments alike are betting that over time, costs will come down. Right now, however, little electricity is being generated from the ocean except at scattered test sites around the world.

The East River — despite its name, it is really a tidal strait with powerful currents — is the site of the most advanced test project in the United States.

Verdant Power, the company that operates it, was forced to spend several years and millions of dollars mired in a slow permit process, even before its turbine blades broke off in the currents. The company believes it is getting a handle on the problems. Verdant is trying to perfect its turbines and then install 30 of them in the East River, starting no later than spring 2010, and to develop other sites in Canada and on the West Coast.

Plenty of other start-ups also plan commercial ocean-power plants, at offshore sites such as Portugal, Oregon and Wales, but none have been built.

Ocean-power technology splits into two broad categories, tidal and wave power. Wave power, of the sort Finavera is pursuing, entails using the up and down motions of the waves to generate electricity. Tidal power — Verdant’s province — involves harnessing the action of the tides with underwater turbines, which twirl like wind machines.

(Decades-old tidal technologies in France and Canada use barrage systems that trap water at high tide; they are far larger and more obtrusive than the new, below-waterline technologies.)

A third type of power, called ocean thermal, aims to exploit temperature differences between the surface and deep ocean, mainly applicable in the tropics.

Ocean power has more potential than wind power because water is about 850 times denser than air, and therefore packs far more energy. The ocean’s waves, tides and currents are also more predictable than the wind.

The drawback is that seawater can batter and corrode machinery, and costly undersea cables may be needed to bring the power to shore. And the machines are expensive to build: Pelamis has had to raise the equivalent of $77 million.

Many solar start-ups, by contrast, need as little as $5 million to build a prototype, said Martin Lagod, co-founder of Firelake Capital Management, a Silicon Valley investment firm. Mr. Lagod looked at investing in ocean power a few years ago and decided against it because of the long time horizons and large capital requirements.

General Electric, which builds wind turbines, solar panels and other equipment for virtually every other type of energy, has stayed clear of ocean energy. “At this time, these sources do not appear to be competitive with more scalable alternatives like wind and solar,” said Daniel Nelson, a G.E. spokesman, in an e-mail message. (An arm of G.E. has made a small investment in Pelamis.)

Worldwide, venture capital going to ocean-power companies has risen from $8 million in 2005 to $82 million last year, according to the Cleantech Group, a research firm. However, that is a tiny fraction of the money pouring into solar energy and biofuels.

This month the Energy Department doled out its first major Congressionally-funded grants since 1992 to ocean-power companies, including Verdant and Lockheed Martin, which is studying ocean thermal approaches.

Assuming that commercial ocean-power farms are eventually built, the power is likely to be costly, especially in the near term. A recent study commissioned by the San Francisco Public Utility Commission put the cost of harnessing the Golden Gate’s tides at 85 cents to $1.40 a kilowatt-hour, or roughly 10 times the cost of wind power. San Francisco plans to forge ahead regardless.

Other hurdles abound, including sticky environmental and aesthetic questions. In Oregon, crabbers worry that the wave farm proposed by Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey company, would interfere with their prime crabbing grounds.

“It’s right where every year we deploy 115,000 to 120,000 crab pots off the coast for an eight-month period to harvest crab,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. The commission wants to support renewable energy, but “we’re kind of struggling with that,” Mr. Furman said

George Taylor, chief executive of Ocean Power Technologies, said he did not expect “there will be a problem with the crabs.”

In Washington State, where a utility is studying the possibility of installing tidal power at the Admiralty Inlet entrance to Puget Sound, scuba divers are worried, even as they recognize the need for clean power.

Said Mike Racine, president of the Washington Scuba Alliance: “We don’t want to be dodging turbine blades, right?”

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 19, 2008

The University of Hawaii (UH) has won an intensely sought-after award, being selected as one of two National Marine Renewable Test Centers, with Oregon State University as the other.

As a test center, UH will receive federal funding to study and encourage the implementation of wave energy systems in Hawaiian waters. The strong wave climate, combined with the highest use of fossil fuel and electricity rates in the nation, make Hawaii an ideal location for the development of lower-cost wave power.

It has been a banner year for renewable energy in Hawaii. After Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Hawaii in January, seeking to produce 70% of Hawaii’s electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030.

In February, Oceanlinx, one of the world’s leading wave energy developers, announced plans for a wave energy facility off Maui’s northern coast.

The extent to which wave energy companies are drawn to Hawaii will ultimately determine how many jobs are created by their presence. However, given the large market and available resources, the potential is tremendous. Wave energy converters require engineers, consultants, commercial divers, maintenance crews, marine transport services, technicians and shipyard services. In other words, a vibrant wave energy industry will create well-paying jobs while keeping billions of dollars in our state economy instead of shipping them primarily to foreign countries to pay for oil.

With the recent surge in oil prices, renewable energy systems have been experiencing a renaissance. Investors who wanted nothing to do with renewable energy companies a few years ago are now scrambling to get their money invested in leading technologies. Those investors now can compete to catch the wave.

While the UH’s designation as a National Marine Renewable Test Center will certainly make Hawaii a more attractive destination, it’s important to note that Hawaii lacks a mechanism to connect wave energy systems to its power grid. Enter the Wave Hub, an undersea “outlet” that enables multiple wave energy systems to hook into the grid.

Construction of a Wave Hub about 10 miles off the southwest coast of England is creating a real-world testing ground. That Wave Hub should prove a commercial success, as there is already intense competition between rival wave energy companies seeking berths allowing their systems to plug into the Wave Hub.

In conjunction with the UH Marine Test Center, we must develop a Wave Hub here in Hawaii, so wave energy systems can compete to prove their commercial viability. Once an optimal location is selected, then the state can prepare the necessary environment and permit documents and install the seabed device and cable. Wave energy companies will be able to “plug in” their devices, without each spending years in the application phase.

In addition to the vibrant wave energy climate, federal, state and academic support can make Hawaii the premier destination for wave energy development in the United States, not to mention the Pacific theater. This is an innovation economy by definition – one that will make Hawaii more secure and environmentally protected.

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Excerpts from FRANK HARTZELL’s article in the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, September 18, 2008

PG&E “expects to be granted $1.2 million this week by the U.S. Department of Energy to study wave energy off Fort Bragg and Eureka” and is seeking “the new money earlier this summer to move its local wave energy study under a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permit to the commercial stage. In order to complete that study and get test equipment into the water, the Department of Energy grant is needed, PG&E says.”

“The most recent news of the federal Department of Energy grant will be a study undertaken by the utility as part of a team that includes Humboldt State University and the University of Texas at Austin. PG&E hopes the money will eventually make the project commercially viable.”

“PG&E believes there is potential to generate renewable, emission free, environmentally benign, and cost effective energy from wave energy at selected sites in the PG&E service territory in Northern California, and that successful wave energy demonstration may enable significant commercial development resulting in important benefits for both the Northern California region and the country,” the grant application by the utility states.”

“Clearly, PG&E needs to do in-water testing for wave energy to be viable. FERC’s preliminary permit process no longer allows for that to happen. FERC anticipates issuing a license to PG&E for wave energy off Humboldt next spring. A license would allow in-water testing and even legal power generation.”

PG&E’s objective is “to conduct in-water testing and evaluation of commercial/near-commercial WEC [wave energy converter] technology representative of what would be expected to be used in a commercial-scale power plant. This will enable PG&E to make an informed evaluation of WEC technology as to whether, and to what extent, wave energy should be included in PG&E’s energy portfolio, while simultaneously facilitating the commercial development of this new industry,” the PG&E application states.

“PG&E is the primary proposing organization and its project team includes CH2MHill, EPRI, University of Texas at Austin, Humboldt State University and other contractors to be named later.”

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AYESHA RASCOE, Reuters, September 16, 2008

WASHINGTON  – The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that lifts a longstanding ban on offshore oil drilling, opening most of the U.S. coastline to exploration.

The package proposed by Democrats would give states the option to allow drilling between 50 and 100 miles (80 and 160 km) off their shores. Areas more than 100 miles from the coast would be completely open to oil exploration and drilling.

The House voted 236 to 189 in favor of the package.

Until recently, Democratic leaders in Congress strongly opposed lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling, saying drilling would have only a small impact on gasoline prices in the immediate future.

But as gasoline prices rose to levels above $4 a gallon this summer, public opinion shifted in favor of offshore drilling. Republicans made removing the ban on drilling a key campaign issue for their party in this election year.

With the moratorium facing expiration on September 30 and voter sentiment changing, Democrats supported repealing the ban as part of a larger energy package.

House Republicans, however, strongly protested the Democrats’ package, calling the bill a “sham” and a “hoax.”

The bill faces a possible veto from the White House.

“At a time when American families are in need of genuine relief from the effects of high fuel prices, this bill purports to open access to American energy sources while in reality taking actions to stifle development,” the White House said in a statement.

Opponents of the bill say since the bill does not include a revenue sharing plan, states will not have an incentive to open their coasts to exploration. Another complaint is that the requirement that drilling occur at least 50 miles away from the U.S. coast closes a great deal of the outer continental shelf where oil may be located.

Democrats countered that their package would open 319 million acres to 404 million acres off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to drilling.

“This legislation is a result of reasonable compromise that will put us on a path to energy independence by expanding domestic supply,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Conservation groups blasted the House bill, however, for not protecting the environment. “As it stands, the clean energy provisions in this bill are dwarfed by the push for outdated, dirty and expensive energy,” said Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke.

Later this week, the Senate is expected to take up energy legislation that would expand offshore drilling, but not as much as the House. Both chambers would have to reconcile differences between their bills before a final energy package could be sent to the White House to be signed into law.

Time is running out for lawmakers to pass legislation as Congress is scheduled to adjourn on September 26.

Other provisions in the House energy package include:

  • Selling 70 million barrels of light crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to be replaced with heavy crude oil.
  • Offering renewable energy and efficiency tax credits that would be funded by repealing some tax breaks for the oil industry.
  • Allowing oil shale development in some western states, if the states approve.

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MendoCoastCurrent, John Podesta, September 9, 2008

ctr-4-american-progressOn September 9, 2008, the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank headed by John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to U.S. President Bill Clinton, published a report by entitled “Green Recovery: A New Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.” This report may serve as a road map for the new President, Barack Obama. Podesta now heads President-Elect Obama’s transition team. As such, it may be instructive to review its contents as a guide to the Obama Administration’s energy policy.

The signs are clear: Our economy is in trouble. Falling home prices, foreclosures, bank failures, a weaker dollar, rising prices for gas, food, and steel, and layoffs in banking, construction, and manufacturing sectors are all indicators of serious economic strain-following a long period in which the middle class went nowhere even while the economy grew as a whole. What’s more, evidence suggests the current downturn will continue for at least another year.

At the same time, we face a growing climate crisis that will require us to rapidly invest in new energy infrastructure, cleaner sources of power, and more efficient use of electricity and fuels in order to cut global warming pollution. There is much work to be done in building smart solutions at a scale and speed that is bold enough to meet this gathering challenge.

It is time for a new vision for the economic revitalization of the nation and a restoration of American leadership in the world. We must seize this precious opportunity to mobilize the country and the international community toward a brighter, more prosperous future. At the heart of this opportunity is clean energy, remaking the vast energy systems that power the nation and the world. We must fundamentally change the way we produce and consume energy and dramatically reduce our dependence on oil. The economic opportunities provided by such a transformation are vast, not to mention the national security benefits of reducing oil dependence and the pressing need to fight global warming. The time for action is now.

Today, the Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution.

The $100 billion fiscal expansion that we examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for our nation, such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, “Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy.” This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:

  • Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency
  • Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  • Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  • Wind power
  • Solar power
  • Advanced biofuels

This green recovery and infrastructure investment program would:

  • Create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years
  • Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.
  • Create roughly triple the number of good jobs-paying at least $16 dollars an hour-as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.
  • Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4% from 5.7%(calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).
  • Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.
  • Provide opportunities to rebuild career ladders through training and workforce development that if properly implemented can provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most. (Because green investment not only creates more good jobs with higher wages, but more jobs overall, distributed broadly across the economy, this program can bring more people into good jobs over time.)
  • Help lower oil prices. Moderating domestic energy demand will have greater price effects than modest new domestic supply increases.
  • Begin the reconstruction of local communities and public infrastructure all across America, setting us on a course for a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy that increases our energy independence and helps fight global warming. Currently, about 22% of total household expenditures go to imports. With a green infrastructure investment program, only about 9% of purchases flow to imports since so much of the investment is rooted in communities and the built environment, keeping more of the resources within the domestic economy.

Our report looked at investments that were funded through an increase in near-term government spending, which could ultimately be repaid by future carbon cap-and-trade revenues. These sources of new investment included the following funding mechanisms:

  • $50 billion for tax credits. This would assist private businesses and homeowners to finance both commercial and residential building retrofits, as well as investments in renewable energy systems.
  • $46 billion in direct government spending. This would support public building retrofits, the expansion of mass transit, freight rail, smart electrical grid systems, and new investments in renewable energy
  • $4 billion for federal loan guarantees. This would underwrite private credit that would be extended to finance building retrofits and investments in renewable energy.

A comprehensive clean energy agenda is essential to the future of our country. The green recovery and infrastructure investment described here is doable in the early days of a new administration. It would enable our country to take significant steps, through energy efficiency and renewable energy development, to move toward a low-carbon economy, while Congress and the next administration move toward the swiftest possible implementation of an economy-wide greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

The next president and lawmakers can pledge to repay the Treasury the cost of the green infrastructure recovery program from cap-and-trade auction revenue. The plan increases public spending in the short term when a near-recession economy needs greater impetus to growth; but it remains consistent with fiscally responsible long-term plan to reduce the debt as a share of GDP, after the economy recovers.

CAP looks forward to continuing to work on the shared mission to reap all of the benefits provided by the transition to a low-carbon economy and discussing this work in greater detail.

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 9, 2008

Fort Bragg, California City Council has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Concerns escalated last August when FERC denied Fort Bragg’s second request for a rehearing on FERC’s national licensing policies for wave energy or hydrokinetic energy projects. The community stakeholders, Fort Bragg, Mendocino County, Lincoln County (Oregon) and Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH), were also denied rehearing by FERC. Under the Federal Power Act, there are no administrative appeals left and the only recourse is a lawsuit.

Fort Bragg contests FERC’s energy development process for national licensing of wave energy projects, including the proposed Pacific Gas & Electric wave energy pilot project off the coast of Fort Bragg.

The contested policies were established in two informal documents issued by FERC in April 2008 entitled Staff Guidance on Hydrokinetic Pilot Procedures” and “Staff FAQs on Conditional Licenses.”

Fort Bragg contends that FERC established these policies without complying with a number of federal laws including the Coastal Zone Management Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

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Excerpts from FRANK HARTZELL’s article at the Mendocino Beacon, September 4, 2008

PG&E decided last week not to be the national test case for the Minerals Management Service’s wave energy program.

Just two weeks earlier, the utility officially filed paperwork to pursue those same far offshore wave energy leases. None of the filings have yet been provided to this newspaper by PG&E, or presented to the public locally.

Why such a quick change of mind?

“In early August we said yes to enter into negotiations for the (MMS) Mendocino project,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris. “Within the following three weeks we hoped there would be change to the economic and commercial terms of the interim lease, which did not occur.

“At that point we made the decision to stop negotiations until the final rules are made available,” said Morris.

Minerals Management Service officials did not respond to questions about what they will do next, now that their test case is gone.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) believes it must charge private companies and promote competition for leases of public resources — which the competing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gives to the first company in line at no direct cost.

After no competing firms emerged by the May 19 deadline, the MMS abandoned the idea of competitive bidding and proposed charging $3 per acre annually to lease the areas.

“PG&E has concluded that the project costs, including the significant rental fees, of going forward under an interim lease are unacceptably high, particularly in light of the absence of any competitive advantage at the commercial leasing stage,” said Morris.

AND

Recent Offshore Development Timeline

  • April — MMS releases its interim alternative energy application process. The MMS picks one site for each kind of energy proposed to be generated on the Outer Continental Shelf, wave, current, tide and wind. PG&E’s twin projects in Fort Bragg and Eureka are the wave energy choice.
  • May — When no other developer applies for the 200 square miles of ocean that PG&E has claimed off Eureka and Fort Bragg, the MMS proposes a $3 per acre annual fee.
  • August 1 — MMS announces a new initiative to open more areas to offshore oil drilling. Email and regular mail public comments are being taken through Sept. 5 on what areas should be opened.
  • August 6 — PG&E officially applies for the new MMS leases at $3 per acre.
  • August 15 — MMS holds a seminar in San Francisco to explain the new alternative energy process. PG&E attends.
  • August 26 — Mendocino County moves ahead with suing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, over its wave energy process.
  • August 26 — PG&E reverses its position of August 6 and announces it won’t pursue the interim leases, instead waiting until MMS finishes its rulemaking process later in 2008 or early 2009.
  • August 29 — PG&E files a six-month progress report with FERC. The company claims a large amount of local outreach in the report, naming numerous public meetings it has held. The company has revealed little or no new information at any of those meetings. The status report also mentions the company collaborated with two universities in June on filing a request with the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • August 31 — California State Senate passes a joint resolution asking Congress to renew the federal waters Outer Continental Shelf offshore drilling moratorium. This resolution, AJR 51, authored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, had been passed by the California State Assembly earlier this summer.
  • September and October — Congress must pass new annual moratorium for protections off the Mendocino Coast and much of the East and West Coasts to continue. Republicans nationally make creating new drilling wherever possible a key campaign issue. A rival GOP plan would open up only certain Eastern states and new areas in the Gulf of Mexico to drilling.

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GABE MELINE, Bohemia.com, September 3, 2008

While presidential candidates call for alternative forms of energy and “sustainable” is the word of the year, the idea of ocean-wave buoys along the Sonoma and Marin coast continues to attract attention as a potentially viable form of energy.

Though no firm proposal is in place, the wheels have been turning toward what some are already calling a “West Coast wave energy gold rush.” The county of Sonoma, in fact, has already submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to lease an area of the ocean off the Sonoma Coast to oversee wave-energy development.

Dan Howard, superintendent of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, agrees that ocean waves, like the wind and the sun, are a natural energy source which until recently has gone widely untapped. Still, the rush may be a long way off. “I would call it an experimental technology,” he says. “It’s safe to say, I think, it’s years away from any kind of implementation.”

Earlier this year, the Cordell Bank Sanctuary held a panel discussion with representatives from the buoy energy industry, the marine fisheries and environmental groups. “You start running into issues related to migrations—the grey whales, of course, are the first that come to mind,” Howard says. “The fishing industry, certainly, you’d have to work something out with the local commerce if it affected vessel traffic in any way. There are lots of conversations that need to occur.”

The concept of the wave-energy buoy has been implemented most successfully in Portugal, where the Aguçadora Wave Park, with its snakelike buoys, built in 2005 near Póvoa de Varzim, has been widely hailed a commercial success. Last year in Oregon, a different prototype of buoy was tested off the coast, measuring 72 feet tall and weighing 35 tons. Using a fixed coil with a floating magnetic field, the device would generate voltage with the rising and falling of the waves as the coil moves up and down inside the magnetic field.

The idea has been gaining currency. On Sept. 23, the West Coast Governors’ Agreement—a collaborative group between the governors of California, Oregon and Washington united to preserve ocean health—will host a meeting in Portland, Ore., to discuss with the public the development of wave and tidal energy activities on the West Coast. PG&E has already eyed the Mendocino Coast as a location to study hydrokinetic projects.

With all eyes on renewable energy, and with engineers working on different types of buoys, could we be on the crest of new source of energy? “I think the vast majority of people in the United States would support development of alternative-energy sources, certainly,” Howard says. “How we go about doing that, and doing it in the most environmentally sensitive and safe way, is the trick.”

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