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Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

MendoCoastCurrent, October 5, 2010

Since the beginning of 2010, the Kent State Truth Tribunal has been focused on collecting and understanding the truth about the circumstances that surrounded the killing of four students and the wounding of nine others at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970. As new evidence emerges that supports the belief that the Ohio National Guard was following orders to shoot when they fired into a crowd of peacefully assembled students, we are reminded that this tragic chapter in American history has left an indelible mark on the civic freedoms that define this country.

One of the students shot was my sister Allison Krause and at the moment she died, Allison was protesting the invasion of Cambodia and the escalation of the Vietnam war at a noon peace rally on her college campus. Some of those shot were fellow protestors while others were students simply walking to class.

Like many college students at that time, the protesters at Kent State were fighting the draft and opposed the war in Vietnam. At this peace rally on May 4th at Kent State, they were also protesting the Ohio National Guard’s occupation of their campus that had begun days earlier.  When the shots were fired, the U.S. government robbed the Kent State students of their right to exercise the First Amendment. It also sent a chilling message to young people across the country: If you protest against the government, you could be killed in the process.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution was profoundly devalued by this criminal act. This amendment prohibits our government from “interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a government redress of grievance.”

Until the truth about the Kent State shootings is known and laid bare before the public, the value and meaning of our First Amendment continues to be compromised. The words written and preserved in the Library of Congress have very little to do with citizen’s rights in America today.

Fast-forwarding 40 years to May 4, 2010 and with the help of heartfelt Kent State supporters like Michael Moore, as well as many present at the original peace rally at Kent, the Kent State Truth Tribunal began to record and preserve the truth, broadcasting our findings at MichaelMoore.com. The buried truth about Kent State and the continued cover-up that surrounds the Kent State killings has begun to unfold before us.

We now see how that the calculated acts of President Richard Nixon, Ohio Governor James Rhodes and the Ohio National Guard commanders seamlessly silenced and damaged the psyche of the sixties generation, robbing us of our civil rights. The consequences of their violent actions against students still reverberate today.

I was 15 years old on May 4th 1970. Through the eyes of a teenager I felt the deeper personal angst and pain of losing my only sibling Allison as my family and our home was torn apart. Allison’s death and the harassment that followed will never be forgotten. When I lost Allison I was outraged but realized quickly that there was little that a 15-year-old could do.

My parents, Arthur and Doris Krause, pursued redress through the courts, seeking justice the American way. In each and every litigation the shooting guardsmen, along with their commanding officers, claimed there wasn’t an order to shoot ~ that the guardsmen reacted with their shots because they felt their lives were in danger, despite the fact that many eye-witnessed remembered clearly hearing an order to fire.  By taking this position and stating this under oath, the government forced everyone pursuing truth and justice in the Kent State killings to look for proof that an ‘order to shoot’ existed.

Back to the present, just days after we closed the doors at the Kent State Truth Tribunal at the 40th anniversary of the killings in Kent, Ohio, important news was published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Read it here: bit.ly/aM7Ocm The Plain Dealer arranged an examination of an audio tape recorded by a Kent State student from his dorm window ledge. Two, expert forensic audio scientists, Stuart Allen and Tom Owen, independently confirmed an order was issued to the Ohio National Guard. Mr. Allen found that the order “Prepare to fire,” can be heard on the audio cassette ‘as clear as a bell’.

As we turn our attention to the approaching Kent State Truth Tribunal in New York City on October 9 and 10 http://TruthTribunal.org/event , Mr. Allen will present this new evidence so that everyone watching at MichaelMoore.com can judge for themselves. We hope you will tune in to witness this important moment that will prove an order was issued, that the guards followed a command and that there was homicidal intent on the part of our government to kill unarmed, protesting students

We have invited the federal government to send an official to audit and witness our interview with Mr. Allen.

Additionally, we will be interviewing participants and witnesses of the Kent State shootings to hear and preserve their truth, as well as some notable guests with meaningful connection to the prelude and aftermath.

Daniel Ellsberg will participate in our first Skype interview at this KSTT in New York City.  You may remember that Mr. Ellsberg precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.  He will be giving us background into the political context and key elements of the Vietnam war at the time of the killings at Kent State.

Mr. Lawrence Dowler, founder of the Kent State collection in the Yale Library where he was chief archivist (now retired), will share his truth on the collection he personally assembled, a collection revered to be the most extensive and accurate archive of the Kent State shootings.

You are invited to share in this important moment in history by watching our live broadcast at www.MichaelMoore.com on Saturday and Sunday, October 9 and 10, from 10AM to 5PM est.

You hope you’ll join us as we continue to uncover the truth at Kent State.

To learn more about KSTT and support our efforts, visit http://TruthTribunal.org

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MARSHA W. JOHNSTON, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, March 2009

One hundred and forty-one years ago, the relentless sea off Scotland’s coast inspired the following observation from native son and author George MacDonald:

I climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and bursting as billow broke upon billow…they burst on the rocks at the end of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air over their heads. “Will the time ever come,” I thought, when man shall be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell.”

In the United States, permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting.

Today, we can certainly say, “Yes, the time will come.” The only question remaining is how long it will be before humankind routinely and widely uses electricity generated from the kinetic power of ocean tides, currents and waves.

If one defines “commercial ocean energy” as several tens of megawatts, the world cannot yet boast a commercial ocean energy installation. Indeed, only two installations of either wave, tidal or in-stream current devices are grid-connected and can generate over 1 megawatt (MW) of power. One is Pelamis Wave Power’s 2.25-MW Aguçadoura project off of Portugal’s northern coast and the other is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) SeaGen, a US $20-million commercial-scale tidal-energy project under development in Northern Ireland’s turbulent Strangford Narrows. In December, SeaGen boasted the first tidal turbine to hit a capacity of 1.2 MW.

(The biggest exception to commercial ocean energy production is the world’s longest running tidal power plant, the 240-MW La Rance, in France. But the plant’s barrage technology, which traps water behind a dam and releases it at low tide, has fallen out of favor due to its perceived higher environmental impact than underwater turbines. Nova Scotia has also been operating a 20-MW barrage Tidal Generating Station in the tidal-rich Bay of Fundy since 1984.)

The rest of the world’s wave, tidal and current installations, some of which have been in the water as far back as the 1990s, are experimental and prototype units ranging in size from 35 kilowatts (kW) to 400 kW. Because these units operate only intermittently and are not typically connected to any grid, it is not possible to determine their total power generation.

Many of these units are prototype demonstration units for the much bigger installations that are under development and that will begin to realize significant exploitation of the world’s ocean energy resource. For example, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. will use the 150-kW PowerBuoy it has been testing since the mid-90s as the “workhorse” for the 270-MW, four-site wave energy plant off California and Oregon coasts that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, says CEO George Taylor.

And Inverness, Scotland-based WaveGen expects to use 40 units of the 100-kw turbine it just installed off the Island of Islay for a 4-MW farm off of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. Meanwhile, Pelamis says if its 750-kw “sea snake” devices, which were installed last year, make it through the winter, it will put 37 more of them in the water, generating 30 MW.

All of the wave, tidal, ocean and river current power around North America that can be practically extracted could together provide 10% of today’s electrical consumption in the U.S., says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA. He adds that the total water resource could, it is sometimes said, possibly power the world twice over, but a lot of it is out of reach. “Hudson’s Bay, off the Arctic Circle, has HUGE tidal power, but it is thousands of miles from where anyone lives. We have HUGE wave resources off Aleutian Islands, but the same problem,” he says.  See EPRI’s U.S. Offshore Wave Energy Resource Map, below.

What will be the “magic” year for large-scale ocean energy deployment? Most developers indicate 2011-2012. Trey Taylor, co-founder and president of Verdant Power, which is moving into the commercial development phase of its 7-year-old Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, says the firm aims to have “at least 35 MW” in the water by the end of 2011.

Bedard is more circumspect. “I think it will be 2015 in Europe and 2025 in U.S. for big deployment,” he says, adding that the year cited depends entirely on the definition of “big” and “commercial,” which he defines as “many tens of megawatts.”

Verdant’s Taylor expects greater initial success in Canada. “The fundamental difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the underpinning of processes in Canada is collaborative and in the U.S. it is adversarial. It’s just the nature of Canadians, collaborating for community good, whereas in the U.S. people are afraid of being sued,” he said.

Bedard says the U.S. could catch up to Europe earlier, if the Obama Administration walks its big renewable energy infrastructure investment talk. “But if it’s business as usual, it could be later, depending on the economy,” he says.

Since the global economy began to melt down last September, many ocean energy companies have had to refocus their investment plans. With venture capital and institutional monies drying or dried up, firms are turning to public funds, strategic partners such as utilities and big engineering firms, and angel investors.

In November, MCT retained London-based Cavendish Corp Finance to seek new financing. Raymond Fagan, the Cavendish partner charged with MCT, said although tidal energy is not as advanced as wind or solar, he has seen a “strong level of interest so far from large engineering-type firms in MCT’s leading position.” Because MCT holds patents and is delivering power to the grid ahead of its competitors, Fagan thinks Cavendish can bring it together with such strategic partners.

In addition to the economic climate, he notes that the drop in oil and gas prices is further slowing renewable energy investment decisions. “Six to 12 months ago, people were leaping into renewable energy opportunities,” he says, adding that the UK government’s recent call for marine energy proposals for the enormous Pentland Firth zone north of Scotland will improve Cavendish’s chances of getting financing. Though it has yet to make a public announcement, MCT is widely viewed as a prime operator for the zone.

Monies are still available. Witness Pelamis Wave Power’s infusion of 5 million pounds sterling in November, which it says it will use for ongoing investment in core R&D and continuing development of its manufacturing processes and facilities.

In the U.S., permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting. Bedard notes however, that streamlining the process in the U.S. may have begun with the recent opening of a new six-month process for licensing pilot marine energy plants.

Marine energy experts agree that there are more opportunities for wave power than for tidal, as there are simply fewer exploitable tidal sites. In technology terms, however, tidal turbines have benefited from a quarter century of wind turbine development, says Virginia Tech professor George Hagerman. Despite more widely available wave resource, wave energy developers face the challenge of needing many more devices than do tidal energy developers, and have a higher cabling cost to export the power.

As Christopher Barry, co-chair of the Ocean Renewable Energy panel at the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, explains: “The major challenge [to ocean energy] is not pure technology, but the side issues of power export and making the technology affordable and survivable.”

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RICHARD RICHTMYER, AP via Forbes, February 2, 2009

New York state officials are using a small wind turbine atop Albany’s tallest building to test a big renewable energy idea.

The turbine stands 17 feet above the roof of the 41-story Corning Tower. Its 7-foot diameter blades can produce up to 1.5 kilowatts of electricity when spinning at full capacity. That’s less than one-tenth of a percent of the electricity workers in the state office building use every day, said John Egan, commissioner of the state Office of General Services.

But the idea isn’t to use the turbine – which resembles a large pinwheel – to offset the tower’s energy use. Instead, workers will use it to test the feasibility of larger urban wind-energy programs, Egan said.

“This is really experimental,” he said. “It will tell us which way we should be going.”

Egan and his staff are working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority on the pilot program. NYSERDA workers will collect performance data from the so-called “micro-turbine” to study how they work in urban environments.

It’s a small step toward achieving a policy goal that Gov. David Paterson  has set for the state to meet 45% of its electricity needs through improved efficiency and renewable energy by 2015. The Corning Tower pilot project cost around $15,000.

“Harnessing the power of the wind in an urban setting could provide us with yet another way to expand the state’s renewable energy resources, create thousands of ‘green collar’ jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and address global climate change,” said Robert Callender, NYSERDA’s vice president for programs.

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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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Guardian.co.uk, December 3, 2008

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWay back in Napoleonic Paris, a Monsieur Girard had a novel idea about energy: power from the sea. In 1799, Girard obtained a patent for a machine he and his son had designed to mechanically capture the energy in ocean waves. Wave power could be used, they figured, to run pumps and sawmills and the like.

These inventors would disappear into the mists of history, and fossil fuel would instead provide an industrializing world with almost all its energy for the next two centuries. But Girard et fils were onto something, say a growing number of modern-day inventors, engineers, and researchers. The heave of waves and the tug of tides, they say, are about to begin playing a significant role in the world’s energy future.

In the first commercial scale signal of that, last October a trio of articulated, cylinder-shaped electricity generators began undulating in the waves off the coast of Portugal. The devices look like mechanical sea snakes. (In fact, their manufacturer, Scotland’s Pelamis Wave Power Ltd., takes its name from a mythical ancient Greek sea serpent.) Each Pelamis device consists of four independently hinged segments. The segments capture wave energy like the handle of an old fashioned water pump captures the energy of a human arm: as waves rock the segments to and fro, they pump a hydraulic fluid (biodegradable, in case of spills) powerfully through a turbine, spinning it to generate up to 750,000 watts of electricity per unit. Assuming the devices continue to perform well, Portuguese utility Energis expects to soon purchase another 28 more of the generators.

The completed “wave farm” would feed its collective power onto a single high voltage sea-floor cable, adding to the Portuguese grid about 21 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power about 15,000 homes.

In a world where a single major coal or nuclear plant can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, it’s a modest start. But from New York’s East River to the offshore waters of South Korea, a host of other projects are in earlier stages of testing. Some, like Pelamis, rely on the motion of waves. Others operate like underwater windmills, tapping the power of the tides.

Ocean-powered technologies are in their infancy, still technologically well behind such energy alternatives as wind and solar. Necessarily designed to operate in an inherently harsh environment, the technologies remain largely unproven and — unless subsidized by governments — expensive. (Portugal is heavily subsidizing the Pelamis project, with an eye to becoming a major European exporter of clean green power in the future.) Little is known about the effects that large wave or tide farms might have on marine ecosystems in general.

Despite the uncertainties, however, proponents say the potential advantages are too striking to ignore. Eight hundred times denser than air, moving water packs a huge energy wallop. Like solar and wind, power from moving seas is free and clean. But sea power is more predictable than either wind or solar. Waves begin forming thousands of miles from coastlines and days in advance; tides rise and fall as dependably as the cycles of the moon. That predictability makes it easier to match supply with demand.

Roger Bedard, who leads ocean energy research at the U.S. utility-funded Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, says there’s plenty of reason for optimism about the future of what he calls “hydrodynamic” power. Within a decade, he says, the U.S. could realistically meet as much as 10% of its electricity needs from hydrodynamic power. As a point of reference, that’s about half of the electricity the U.S. produces with nuclear power today. Although he acknowledges that initial sea-powered generation projects are going to be expensive, Bedard believes that as experience grows and economies of manufacturing scale kick in, hydrodynamic power will follow the same path toward falling costs and improving technologies as other alternatives.

“Look at wind,” he says. “A kilowatt hour from wind cost fifty cents in the 1980s. Now it’s about seven cents.” (That’s about the same as producing electricity with natural gas, and only about three cents more than coal, the cheapest — and dirtiest — U.S. energy choice. Any future tax on carbon emissions could narrow that gap even more, as would additional clean-power subsidies.)

For some nations, wave and tide power could pack an even bigger punch. Estimates suggest, for instance, that the choppy seas surrounding the United Kingdom could deliver as much as 25% of its electricity. British alternative energy analyst Thomas W. Thorpe believes that on a worldwide basis, waves alone could produce as much as 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity, as much as all the planet’s major hydroelectric plants generate today.

Although none are as far along as Pelamis, most competing wave-power technologies rely not on the undulations of mechanical serpents, but instead on the power captured by the vertical bobbing of large buoys in sea swells. Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), based in New Jersey, drives the generators in its PowerBuoy with a straightforward mechanical piston. A stationary section of the mostly submerged, 90-foot buoy is anchored to the ocean floor; a second section simply moves up and down with the movement of sea swells, driving pistons that in turn drive an electrical generator. The Archimedes Wave Swing, a buoy-based system developed by Scotland’s AWS Ocean Energy, harnesses the up-and-down energy of waves by pumping air to spin its turbines. Vancouver-based Finavera Renewables uses seawater as its turbine-driving hydraulic fluid.

Although Pelamis beat all of these companies out of the commercialization gate, OPT appears to be right behind, with plans to install North America’s first commercial-scale wave power array of buoys off the coast of Oregon as early as next year. That array — occupying one square-mile of ocean and, like other wave power installations, located far from shipping lanes — would initially produce 2 megawatts of power. OPT also announced last September an agreement to install a 1.4-megawatt array off the coast of Spain. An Australian subsidiary is in a joint venture to develop a 10-megawatt wave farm off the coast of Australia.

Meanwhile, Pelamis Wave Power plans to install more of its mechanical serpents — three megawatts of generating capacity off the coast of northwest Scotland, and another five-megawatt array off Britain’s Cornwall coast.

The Cornwall installation will be one of four wave power facilities plugged into a single, 20-megawatt underwater transformer at a site called “Wave Hub.” Essentially a giant, underwater version of a socket that each developer can plug into, Wave Hub — which will be connected by undersea cable to the land-based grid — was designed as a tryout site for competing technologies. OPT has won another of the four Wave Hub berths for its buoy-based system.

Other innovators are trying to harness the power of ocean or estuarine tides. Notably, in 2007, Virginia’s Verdant Power installed on the floor of New York’s East River six turbines that look, and function, much like stubby, submerged windmills, their blades — which are 16 feet in diameter — turning at a peak rate of 32 revolutions per minute. The East River is actually a salty and powerful tidal straight that connects Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. Although the “underwater windmills” began pumping out electricity immediately, the trial has been a halting one. The strong tides quickly broke apart the turbines’ first- (fiberglass and steel) and second- (aluminum and magnesium) generation blades, dislodging mounting bolts for good measure.

Undeterred, in September Verdant Power began testing new blades made of a stronger aluminum alloy. If it can overcome the equipment-durability problems, the company hopes to install as many as 300 of its turbines in the East River, enough to power 10,000 New York homes.

A scattering of similar prototype “underwater windmill” projects have been installed at tidal sites in Norway, Northern Ireland, and South Korea. (In addition, interest in moving into freshwater sites is growing. Verdant itself hopes to install its turbines on the St. Lawrence River. At least one other company, Free Flow Power of Massachusetts, has obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits to conduct preliminary studies on an array of sites on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.)

The environmental benefits of hydrodynamic power seem obvious: no carbon dioxide or any other emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based generation. No oil spills or nuclear waste. And for those who object to wind farms for aesthetic reasons, low-profile wave farms are invisible from distant land; tidal windmill-style turbines operate submerged until raised for maintenance.

There are, however, environmental risks associated with these technologies.

New York state regulators required Verdant Power to monitor effects of their its turbines on fish and wildlife. So far, sensors show that fish and water birds are having no trouble avoiding the blades, which rotate at a relatively leisurely 32 maximum revolutions per minute. In fact the company’s sensors have shown that fish tend to seek shelter behind rocks around the channel’s banks and stay out of the central channel entirely when tides are strongest.

But a host of other questions about environment effects remain unanswered. Will high-voltage cables stretching across the sea from wave farms somehow harm marine ecosystems? Will arrays of hundreds of buoys or mechanical serpents interfere with ocean fish movement or whale migrations? What effect will soaking up large amounts of wave energy have on shoreline organisms and ecosystems?

“Environmental effects are the greatest questions right now,” EPRI’s Bedard says, “because there just aren’t any big hydrodynamic projects in the world.”

Projects will probably have to be limited in size and number to protect the environment, he says – that’s a big part of the reason he limits his “realistic” U.S. estimate to 10% of current generation capacity. But the only way to get definitive answers on environmental impact might be to run the actual experiment — that is, to begin building the water-powered facilities, and then monitor the environment for effects.

Bedard suggests that the way to get definitive answers will be to build carefully on a model like Verdant’s: “Start very small. Monitor carefully. Build it a little bigger and monitor some more. I’d like to see it developed in an adaptive way.”

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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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Associated Press, September 4, 2008

Albany — New York utility regulators have given the global energy company Iberdrola the go-ahead to buy Energy East.

The 4-0 vote by New York’s Public Service Commission yesterday clears the way for the $4.6 billion deal, which includes Energy East subsidiaries Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and New York State Electric and Gas.

Energy East also owns power companies in Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, where regulators have already approved the takeover. But New York’s approval comes with a series of conditions that Iberdrola hasn’t yet accepted.

The commissioners, who have had Iberdrola’s proposal before them for more than a year, characterized their decision as a compromise that protects Energy East’s customers while not imposing conditions so onerous they’d cause Iberdrola — which is based in Spain — to nix the buyout.

“This isn’t a perfect deal, and it might not be a great deal,” commissioner Maureen Harris said before casting her vote. “In my opinion, it’s a good deal, and I’m not willing to risk having the company walk away from it.”

Iberdrola had no immediate comment except to say that it looks forward to reviewing the order to determine what steps it will take next.

Staff analysts at the PSC had argued for months against the deal because of concerns about whether it would best serve the public in terms of cost and competitiveness. They laid out a series of conditions they said the agency’s decision-making panel should impose before the deal could go through.

Yesterday’s approval addressed most of the issues staff analysts raised, though the conditions were significantly scaled back from their original recommendations.

For example, the commissioners required Iberdrola to put aside $275 million to offset future rate increases. That’s compares with the $646 million PSC staff analysts initially proposed as a condition of the sale.

PSC staff analysts also initially said Iberdrola should be required to sell its interest in wind and hydropower generating plants as a condition of the deal. That was in keeping with a state policy that power companies shouldn’t own both transmission lines and generating plants, which might give them too much control over setting prices.

Iberdrola — which has wind projects from the Pacific Northwest to Europe — strongly objected to that demand and sought help from state and federal officials, including Senator Schumer, who said he lobbied the PSC chairman, Garry Brown, to find a compromise.

The commission said yesterday that Iberdrola must sell the fossil fuel generating plants but may keep the wind energy plants as long as it commits to spending up to $200 million on wind energy development in the state. The company has publicly said it will spend $2 billion on wind energy in New York, but it hasn’t made a firm commitment.

Under the terms the PSC laid out, Iberdrola would also be required to make any future investments in wind energy using money from a non-Energy East subsidiary.

“We have argued long and hard for Iberdrola’s ability to develop wind power, and we very much urge them to accept this ruling,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement after the PSC’s decision.

It’s not clear, however, if the company will go along with the conditions. A spokesman for the PSC said the agency expects to issue a written order spelling them out within a few days, and it’s up to Iberdrola to accept or reject the offer.

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