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msnbc.com, January 27, 2010

Lots has been said about warming temperatures and rising sea levels, but a new study puts the spotlight on a more imminent threat to coastal communities: extreme waves that are growing taller in some parts of the world.

Data from buoys off the Pacific Northwest coast found that since the mid-1970s the height of the biggest waves has increased on average by nearly four inches a year. That’s about 10 feet over that period.

“The waves are getting larger,” said lead author Peter Ruggiero, an assistant geosciences professor at Oregon State University.

And that, he said, means “the rates of erosion and frequency of coastal flooding have increased over the last couple of decades and will almost certainly increase in the future.”

In the study published in the journal Coastal Engineering, Ruggiero and his colleagues report that the reasons are not completely certain.

“Possible causes might be changes in storm tracks, higher winds, more intense winter storms, or other factors,” Ruggiero said. “These probably are related to global warming, but could also be involved with periodic climate fluctuations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and our wave records are sufficiently short that we can’t be certain yet.”

The team also looked at how high a “100-year event” might be, given that planners use those scenarios in approving development projects. Using the new data set, the researchers  estimated that the biggest waves could get up to 46 feet tall — a 40 percent increase from 1970s estimates of 33 feet.

Ruggiero said that the study reinforces earlier ones showing similar trends off some other coasts, among them the U.S. Southeast Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific and southwest England. On the other hand, areas like the North Sea and the Mediterranean have shown little to no increase.

Double Whammy

Ruggiero said he’s working on a publishing another study that shows the increase in Pacific Northwest wave heights over the last 30 years “has been significantly more important than sea level rise” in terms of flooding and erosion threats to the coast.

“The bottom line,” Ruggiero said, “is that water levels have already increased in the Pacific Northwest due to wave heights and as sea level rise accelerates the region will experience a ‘double whammy’. So it is critical for engineers and planners to consider both processes.”

Both “winners and losers” are expected in terms of beach stability, with some areas gaining sand, but already some negative effects are visible in coastal towns like Neskowin, Ore.

“Neskowin is already having problems with high water levels and coastal erosion,” Ruggiero said.

“Communities are going to have to plan for heavier wave impacts and erosion, and decide what amounts of risk they are willing to take, how coastal growth should be managed and what criteria to use for structures,” he added.

Ruggiero emphasized that another factor for the Pacific Northwest is that a large earthquake could drop the shoreline by several feet, worsening the impact of extreme waves.

That proved to be the case in Sumatra, Indonesia, during the 2004 quake and tsumani, he said, and some of the shoreline there dropped by up to five feet.

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SustainableBusiness.com News, April 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA bill introduced in the Senate aims to encourage development of renewable ocean energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced the legislation as a companion to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), that would authorize as much as $250 million a year to promote ocean research.

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 and a companion tax provision would expand federal research of marine energy, take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal and thermal ocean energy devices, create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It simply makes sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves and river and ocean currents to make electricity.”

The legislation would:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to increase its research and development effort. The bill also encourages efforts to allow marine energy to work in conjunction with other forms of energy, such as offshore wind, and authorizes more federal aid to assess and deal with any environmental impacts. 
  • Allow for the creation of a federal Marine-Based Energy Device Verification program in which the government would test and certify the performance of new marine technologies to reduce market risks for utilities purchasing power from such projects.
  • Authorize the federal government to set up an adaptive management program, and a fund to help pay for the regulatory permitting and development of new marine technologies.
  • And a separate bill, likely to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, would ensure marine projects benefit from being able to accelerate the depreciation of their project costs over five years–like some other renewable energy technologies currently can do. The provision should enhance project economic returns for private developers

 The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt hours of electricity–6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation–if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.

“This bill, if approved, will bring us closer to a level playing field so that ocean energy can compete with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies to generate clean energy,” Murkowski said.

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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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MICHELLE MA, Seattle Times, November 17, 2008

What started out as a mad dash to extract energy from the ocean’s waves and tides has slowed to a marathoner’s pace — complete with a few water breaks and sprained ankles along the way.

In the past three years, more than 100 preliminary permits have been issued nationally for wave and tidal energy projects, and nearly 100 more are pending approval. But only one has won a license to operate — a small wave energy development off Washington’s northwest coast.

That project is still awaiting state and federal permits, and its British Columbia-based developer, Finavera Renewables, doesn’t know when the first devices will go in the water. It doesn’t help that a wave power buoy the company was testing off the Oregon coast unexpectedly sank last year.

Tapping the power of waves and tidal currents to generate electricity is promoted as one of many promising alternatives to the fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

But no one knows exactly how the technologies will behave in the water, whether animals will get hurt, or if costs will pencil out. The permitting process is expensive and cumbersome, and no set method exists for getting projects up and running.

“The industry is really young, and everything is hodgepodged right now,” said Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab who is involved in tidal research.

A new report that collected findings from dozens of scientists raises concerns about the impact wave energy developments could have on the ocean and its critters. Wave energy buoys could alter the food chain or disrupt migrations, the report says.

Still, developers, regulators and researchers are moving forward. A 2.25-megawatt project off the coast of Portugal went on line this fall, becoming the world’s first commercial wave energy development in operation. It can supply 1,500 households with electricity.

The first commercial wave energy park in the U.S. could go in off Reedsport, Ore., within the next two years.

Tidal energy has yet to go commercial, but devices have been tested in Ireland and Canada. Turbines have been placed in New York’s East River, and a demonstration project is planned for the Bay of Fundy off Northeastern U.S.

In the Northwest, the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) has narrowed its search for tidal power sites in Puget Sound, although the PUD doesn’t expect to have a test project in the water for another two years.

Race to develop

Dozens of developers have staked claim to plots in the ocean and in waterways that could provide wave and tidal energy. But despite the jostle for space, getting projects off dry land has proved difficult.

Wave power generators use the up-and-down motion of the ocean’s swells to produce electricity. Tidal generators act like underwater windmills, spinning as the tides move in and out.

To get small projects in the water quicker federal regulators recently created a five-year pilot license for tidal and wave developments. That’s meant to help developers gather data they need to launch future projects, said Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

Yet even with a more streamlined process, no one has applied for the pilot license, Miller said. Finavera received its license for the 1-megawatt Makah Bay wave project before this option became available.

Given the unknowns in a young industry, it’s not surprising projects are taking longer than some developers would like, said Myke Clark, senior vice president of business development for Finavera.

His company encountered another hurdle when Pacific Gas and Electric’s agreement to buy power from a planned Finavera wave energy project off California was rejected last month by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Regulators said the rates were too high and the buoy technology not yet ready.

Clark said the decision wouldn’t affect Finavera’s Makah Bay project.

Research under way

Researchers from the University of Washington and Oregon State University hope that a new national marine renewable energy research center in the Northwest will help answer questions about tidal and wave energy.

A federal grant provides $1.25 million annually for up to five years. The UW will continue research on tidal energy in Puget Sound, while OSU will focus on wave energy.

“The feeling is that a lot of questions being asked now are only questions that can be answered with a responsible pilot [project],” said Brian Polagye, who is pursuing his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the UW.

Locally, researchers want to see where marine life in Puget Sound congregates and to create a standard way to evaluate sites around the country to determine which would be good candidates for tidal energy projects.

Admiralty Inlet, between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, is the likely spot for the Snohomish County PUD’s small test project set to launch at least two years from now, said Craig Collar, the PUD’s senior manager of energy resource development.

The inlet’s tides are strong, and the area is large enough to accommodate a tidal project without interfering with other activities such as diving and ferry traffic.

Finavera wants to install four wave energy buoys in Makah Bay in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to test its technology. Developers also plan to monitor the project for effects on wildlife and shoreline habitat, keeping an eye on federally listed species such as the marbled murrelet, a small bird that dives for food.

Finavera doesn’t intend to continue the project after its five-year license expires. Still, if the company can negotiate a purchasing agreement with the Clallam County Public Utility District, homes in the area could use the wave generated power while the project is in the water, Clark said.

The Makah Nation wants to see what effect the project might have on the environment before deciding whether wave energy is a viable long-term option, said Ryland Bowechop, tourism and economic-development planner for the tribe.

The buoys would sit just offshore from the tribal headquarters in Neah Bay.

“We are always concerned because our livelihood is the ocean,” Bowechop said.

Concerns linger

The environmental effects of wave and tidal energy are largely unknown and require more studies, dozens of scientists concluded after meeting a year ago at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

The group was concerned that electromagnetic cables on the ocean floor could affect sea life, and that buoys could interfere with whale and fish migration.

Large buoys might actually attract more fish, but the marine ecosystem could be altered if more predators move in. Buoys also could disrupt natural currents and change how sediment is moved. Shorelines might be affected as energy is taken from the waves.

Even if environmental concerns are checked, costs to extract the power remain high. Wave energy costs at least 20 cents per kilowatt hour to generate, compared with 4 cents per kilowatt hour for wind power, said Annette von Jouanne, leader of OSU’s wave energy program. Wind energy used to be much more expensive 20 years ago.

In comparison, coal-generated power costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, and power from dams can be as low as 3 cents, said Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

Tidal energy costs are harder to determine because there aren’t any projects trying to sell electricity, Bedard said.

Fishermen have their own worries. They fear that wave and tidal projects could further reduce access to fishing grounds, said Dale Beasley, a commercial fisherman in Ilwaco, Pacific County, and president of the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association.

“There’s so many things coming at the ocean right now,” he said.

Beasley says the industry wants a say in how wave and tidal energy projects are developed.

“Coastal communities are going to have to figure out a way to deal with this, and if they don’t, the character of the coast will change dramatically,” he said.

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TERRY DILLMAN, South Lincoln County News, September 23, 2008

Oregon’s emergence as a national leader in developing wave energy technology crested Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced grant support to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport.

The agency selected 14 research teams to receive as much as $7.3 million -representing a cost-shared value of more than $18 million – for projects to “advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers.” It’s part of the federal Advanced Energy Initiative designed to dramatically boost clean-energy research funding to develop cleaner, reliable alternative energy sources that cost less. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) signed into law in December 2007 authorizes DOE to establish a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application to expand marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy production.

“Wave, tidal, and current-driven hydro power is an important clean, natural, and domestic energy source that will promote energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” John Mizroch, acting assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, noted in announcing the selections.

A merit review committee of national and international water power experts made the selections. Two awards of up to $1.25 million in annual funding, renewable for up to five years, went to establishing marine energy centers.

One went to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for the National Renewable Marine Energy Center.

The other went to OSU and the University of Washington to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at HMSC, with “a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development” for the nation. DOE officials want the center to “facilitate commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.”

The federal grant will add to funding from the Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET), the University of Washington and other sources to bring in $13.5 million in five years to – according to Robert Paasch, the interim program director for the new center – “help move the generation of energy from waves, ocean currents and tides from the laboratory to part of the nation’s alternative energy future.”

The main effort is to build a floating “berth” to test wave energy technology off the Oregon coast near Newport, as well as fund extensive environmental impact studies, community outreach, and other initiatives.

“This is just the beginning,” Paasch added. “There’s still a lot of work to do on the technology, testing, and environmental studies. But we have no doubt that this technology will work, that wave energy can become an important contributor to energy independence for the United States.”

Oregon can now lead those efforts, thanks to involvement by numerous partners.

The state legislature committed $3 million in capital funding to help create the new wave energy test center.

OWET – a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 2007 and funded by Oregon Inc. to be an integral part of the state’s effort to become the leader in renewable wave energy development – has provided $250,000 in funding, and is working to coordinate support from government agencies, private industry, fishing, environmental, and community groups.

OWET’s goal is to have ocean wave energy producing at least 500 megawatts of energy by 2025 for Oregon consumption.

The University of Washington has committed funding support and will take the lead role in innovative research on tidal and ocean current energy. The National Renewable Energy Center in Golden, Colo., will support studies on how to integrate wave energy into the larger power grid, and help it take its place next to other alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Lincoln County officials immersed themselves in the effort from the outset. OSU’s wave energy test site is off county shores, and groups such as the Newport-based FINE – Fisherman Involved in Natural Energy – are active in providing input and advice from coastal constituencies.

“Oregon is now the unquestioned national leader in marine renewable energy,” Paasch said. “But as this technology is still in its infancy, we want to get things right the first time. We need extensive research on environmental impacts, we need to work with community groups and fishermen, and we need our decisions to be based on sound science as we move forward.”

OSU’s College of Engineering, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Hatfield Marine Science Center will lead technology development, as well as diverse research programs on possible environmental impacts on the wave resource, shores, marine mammals and other marine life.

Construction of the new floating test berth should begin in 2010, Paasch said, after design, engineering work and permits have been completed. The facility will open on a fee basis to private industry groups that want to test their technology, and will provide detailed power analysis, as well as a method to dissipate the power.

“When complete, we’ll be able to test devices, see exactly how much power they generate and be able to assess their environmental impact, using technologies such as the OSU Marine Radar Wave Imaging System and on-site wave sensors,” Paasch

OSU will also continue its own research on wave energy technology led by Annette von Jouanne, professor of electrical engineering.

The university is working closely with private industry partners, recently finished a linear test bed to do preliminary testing of new technology on the OSU campus, and will test prototypes that OSU researchers consider as having the best combination of power production, efficiency and durability. In 2007, the university hosted a workshop to begin looking at the potential ecological implications of establishing wave energy parks along the West Coast. On-going research will continue to ponder that and many other questions.  Much of that research will take place at HMSC.

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Platts/McGraw-Hill, August 2008

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) is looking to generate power from Scottish waters as well. Nasdaq-listed OPT reported July 28 that it had signed a berth agreement with the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland. OPT can, under the berth agreement, deploy and operate its unit as well as hook up to EMEC’s dedicated 2-MW subsea cable connected to the Scottish grid and will sell power to the grid up to the unit’s 2-MW capacity limit, using the EMEC berth for other deployments.

Across the Atlantic, wave energy development in the United States, another country looking to assume market leadership, suffered a temporary setback in late June 2008 when Finavera Renewables scuttled plans for a wave energy project off the Oregon coast to focus on developing the technology needed for other projects.

Finavera let preliminary permits granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) expire by not filing required reports. FERC cancelled Finavera’s preliminary permit on June 26 for the proposed 100-MW Coos Country project, saying the company had failed to file six-month progress reports on studies that the company was required to perform for the project to move forward. The preliminary permit allowed for further site assessment and so-called micro siting to determine the best location for the proposed wave park, and allowed studies on such topics as oceanographic conditions, marine mammal resources, shoreline conditions, and public safety. “We had to focus some of our resources on a couple [of] other high priority projects,” said Myke Clark, vice president of corporate development for Finavera.

These include a planned 2-MW wave energy initiative at Makah Bay, California, which has already secured a long-term power purchase contract in December 2007 with California utility Pacific Gas & Electric – the first commercial PPA for a wave project in North America. In developing the new technology, engineers are tackling such challenges as the intermittency of waves and how to produce electricity from new types of equipment cheaply enough to make it profitable, he said. “We’re definitely in an intensive phase right now in terms of this technology,” Clark said, adding that the company is cancelling the project because “we need to focus a bit more on the technology development.”

The marine energy industry in America faces policy as well as technology obstacles.

As FERC promotes development of hydrokinetic energy and companies seize opportunities, the agency has issued preliminary permits that allow environmental assessments and other studies to be performed – only to have its regulatory authority questioned by other federal agencies.

The US Department of the Interior in April 2008 asserted that FERC lacked the authority to issue leases for hydrokinetic projects on the Outer Continental Shelf and called on FERC to rehear its decisions to issue two preliminary permits for wave electricity projects being considered off the coast of California.

FERC issued a license to Finavera in December 2007 for a 1-MW wave energy project in Clallam County, Washington, but several parties sought rehearing of the decision, claiming FERC violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a license before the state ecology department had issued a water quality certificate and other state permits and authorizations. In a March 20 order FERC said the rehearing requests are moot since the state issued the necessary permits to Finavera in February 2008. FERC said that its initial order was a conditional license that did not authorize construction or installation of facilities and “expressly stated that no such authority would be granted until Finavera obtained all necessary authorizations.”

The US wave energy industry received a boost in late July 2008, though, when the US Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates offshore energy development, said it intends to issue leases for thirteen alternative energy research projects in the federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, including wave-energy projects off the California coast.

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RACHEL THOMSON, The Daily World, August 5, 2008

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a preliminary permit to grant the Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co. the exclusive right to conduct a feasibility study for generating power from wind and wave energy on a 28-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast from Ocean Shores to Grayland over the next three years. The permit, issued August 1, 2008, does not authorize any construction.

The project foresees as many as 90 260-foot tall steel wind turbines, as well as wave energy converters to convert ocean waves and wind into a renewable source of energy and could supply enough energy to power the entire Olympic Peninsula and make Grays Harbor one of the largest producers of renewable energy in the world, according to Burton Hamner, president of Hydrovolts, Inc.—the creator of the Grays Harbor Energy Co. Hamner also said the project has the potential to create numerous jobs within the county because the renewable energy equipment would be manufactured locally.

“The ocean off of Washington has the potential to provide all the electricity needed for the western half of the state by 2025,” Hamner said. “We are leading the investigation how to make this a reality and encourage everyone interested in locally-generated clean power to learn more about the possibilities.”

The feasibility study will seek to find out if the turbines would affect gray whale migration patterns and flight patterns of birds, according to Hamner. Hamner said the study will also examine whether or not the locations of the turbines could limit the areas in which fisherman can fish.

Hamner said a cost for completing the project has not been determined, but the feasibility study could cost upward of $500,000. Funding would come from state and federal grants as well as from the Bonneville Power Administration, he said.

Even after the feasibility study is completed, it would take about four years to begin construction, Hamner said.

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