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FRANK HARTZELL’s article with MendoCoastCurrent edits, January 15, 2009

After nearly two years of local pleas for specifics on the WaveConnect project, PG&E representatives surprised Fort Bragg and Mendocino County representatives with many new details.

Those included the promise by PG&E that all environmental studies would be public, not private information. In the recent past, PG&E had been resisting calls by competitors and ratepayer advocates before the California Public Utilities Commission to make public more information learned during the WaveConnect study.

Another surprise was that PG&E has found about 10 different viable wave energy technologies — far more than first envisioned. The utility will choose the top three or four wave energy devices and test those under a pilot project license.

On Tuesday, the pilot license process became the biggest issue for wave energy officials gathered at Town Hall to hear two top officials explain the roles of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, and the California Coastal Commission.

Both Tom Luster, who will oversee all wave energy projects for the California Coastal Commission and 23-year FERC veteran Ann Miles, FERC Director of Hydropower Licensing said Fort Bragg has had more interest in wave energy than anywhere else in California.

Miles said PG&E would need to file for a conventional license by this March under FERC rules. Using the “faster” pilot license gives them until March 2010 to get started.

Miles provided lengthy and knowledgeable explanations of convoluted FERC processes during the three-hour meeting. But PG&E’s new announcements, which came in private meetings last week, overshadowed the presentations by the top state and federal officials.

Luster explained how the California Coastal Commission would work with the State Lands Commission to review any wave energy project within three miles of shore.

PG&E is now saying their 40-megawatt powerplant will be located “well beyond” that three-mile state limit. The powerplant would likely come after the five-year pilot project license.

That announcement unexpectedly changed the game for the state.

Luster said the big power cable that extends to shore would be regulated by the Coastal Commission, but development beyond three miles would be regulated only for “federal consistency.”

While planning for an eventual project many miles from shore, PG&E will give up on areas more than three miles from shore for now, they have told FERC.

PG&E told Fort Bragg they would site the pilot project much closer to shore, to avoid the jurisdictional conflict between FERC and fellow federal agency Minerals Management Service, or MMS.

FERC claims the authority to be the regulatory authority for all water energy projects in the United States. MMS claims authority for ocean federal waters, which are those more than three miles from shore.

PG&E’s 68-square-mile preliminary permit area, which runs from Point Cabrillo to Cleone and to more than three miles offshore, will be trimmed down to eliminate areas beyond the federal-state jurisdiction line.

PG&E representatives are now promising significant help to local governments.

It was reported that all of the power generated by the 40 megawatt WaveConnect would be consumed in Mendocino County and would provide for nearly all of Fort Bragg’s electric demand when WaveConnect is generating.

Additionally, PG&E intends to pay their expenses, including reviewing, permitting and the community process for public participation.

Miles said FERC has no requirements in place to determine that a developer be able to pay for removal of devices in case of bankruptcy or disaster.

Luster said the State Lands Commission handles financial arrangements, such as bonding of projects.

Miles was making her first ever visit to Northern California. She was set to answer questions from the general public at a Town Hall forum Tuesday night.

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