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PETER ASMUS, Pike Research, June 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe earth is the water planet, so it should come as no great surprise that forms of water power have been one of the world’s most popular “renewable” energy sources. Yet the largest water power source of all – the ocean that covers three-quarters of earth – has yet to be tapped in any major way for power generation. There are three primary reasons for this:

  • The first is the nature of the ocean itself, a powerful resource that cannot be privately owned like land that typically serves as the foundation for site control for terrestrial power plants of all kinds;
  • The second is funding. Hydropower was heavily subsidized during the Great Depression, but little public investment has since been steered toward marine renewables with the exception of ocean thermal technologies, which were perceived to be a failure.
  • The third reason why the ocean has not yet been industrialized on behalf of energy production is that the technologies, materials and construction techniques did not exist until now to harness this renewable energy resource in any meaningful and cost effective way.

Literally hundreds of technology designs from more than 100 firms are competing for attention as they push a variety emerging ocean renewable options. Most are smaller upstart firms, but a few larger players – Scottish Power, Lockheed Martin and Pacific Gas & Electric — are engaged and seeking new business opportunities in the marine renewables space. Oil companies Chevron, BP and Shell are also investing in the sector.

In the U.S., the clear frontrunner among device developers is Ocean Power Technologies (OPT). It was the first wave power company to issue successful IPOs through the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market for approximately $40 million and then another on the U.S. Stock Exchange in 2007 for $100 million. OPT has a long list of projects in the pipeline, including the first “commercial” installation in the U.S. in Reedsport, Oregon in 2010, which could lead to the first 50 MW wave farm in the U.S. A nearby site in Coos Bay, Oregon represents another potential 100 MW deployment.

While the total installed capacity of emerging “second generation” marine hydrokinetic resources – a category that includes wave, tidal stream, ocean current, ocean thermal and river hydrokinetic resources – was less than 10 MW at the end of 2008, a recent surge in interest in these new renewable options has generated a buzz, particularly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Portugal, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, among other countries. It is expected that within the next five to eight years, these emerging technologies will become commercialized to the point that they can begin competing for a share of the burgeoning market for carbon-free and non-polluting renewable resources.

The five technologies covered in a new report by Pike Research are the following:

  • Tidal stream turbines often look suspiciously like wind turbines placed underwater. Tidal projects comprise over 90 percent of today’s marine kinetic capacity totals, but the vast majority of this installed capacity relies upon first generation “barrage” systems still relying upon storage dams.
  • Wave energy technologies more often look more like metal snakes that can span nearly 500 feet, floating on the ocean’s surface horizontally, or generators that stand erect vertically akin to a buoy. Any western coastline in the world has wave energy potential.
  • River hydrokinetic technologies are also quite similar to tidal technologies, relying on the kinetic energy of moving water, which can be enhanced by tidal flows, particularly at the mouth of a river way interacting with a sea and/or ocean.
  • Ocean current technologies are similar to tidal energy technologies, only they can tap into deeper ocean currents that are located offshore. Less developed than either tidal or wave energy, ocean current technologies, nevertheless, are attracting more attention since the resource is 24/7.
  • Ocean thermal energy technologies take a very different approach to generating electricity, capturing energy from the differences in temperature between the ocean surface and lower depths, and can also deliver power 24/7.

While there is a common perception that the U.S. and much of the industrialized world has tapped out its hydropower resources, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) disputes this claim. According to its assessment, the U.S. has the water resources to generate from 85,000 to 95,000 more megawatts (MW) from this non-carbon energy source, with 23,000 MW available by 2025. Included in this water power assessment are new emerging marine kinetic technologies. In fact, according to EPRI, ocean energy and hydrokinetic sources (which includes river hydrokinetic technologies) will nearly match conventional new hydropower at existing sites in new capacity additions in the U.S. between 2010 and 2025.

The UN projects that the total “technically exploitable” potential for waterpower (including marine renewables) is 15 trillion kilowatt-hours, equal to half of the projected global electricity use in the year 2030. Of this vast resource potential, roughly 15% has been developed so far. The UN and World Energy Council projects 250 GW of hydropower will be developed by 2030. If marine renewables capture just 10% of this forecasted hydropower capacity, that figure represents 25 GW, a figure Pike Research believes is a valid possibility and the likely floor on market scope.

The demand for energy worldwide will continue to grow at a dramatic clip between 2009 and 2025, with renewable energy sources overtaking natural gas as the second largest source behind coal by 2015 (IEA, 2008). By 2015, the marine renewable market share of this renewable energy growth will still be all but invisible as far as the IEA statistics are concerned, but development up to that point in time will determine whether these sources will contribute any substantial capacity by 2025. By 2015, Pike Research shows a potential of over 22 GW of all five technologies profiled in this report could come on-line. Two of the largest projects – a 14 GW tidal barrage in the U.K. and a 2.2 GW tidal fence in the Philippines — may never materialize, and/or will not likely be on-line by that date, leaving a net potential of more than 14 GW.

By 2025, at least 25 GW of total marine renewables will be developed globally. If effective carbon regulations in the U.S. are in place by 2010, and marine renewable targets established by various European governments are met, marine renewables and river hydrokinetic technologies could provide as much as 200 GW by 2025: 115 GW wave; 57 GW tidal stream; 20 GW tidal barrage; 4 GW ocean current; 3 GW river hydrokinetic; 1 GW OTEC.

About the author: Peter Asmus is an industry analyst with Pike Research and has been covering the energy sector for 20 years. His recent report on the ocean energy sector for Pike Research is now available, and more information can be found at http://www.pikeresearch.com. His new book, Introduction to Energy in California, is now available from the University of California Press (www.peterasmus.com).

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JAMES RICKMAN, Seeking Alpha, June 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the world’s largest solar collectors, oceans generate thermal energy from the sun. They also produce mechanical energy from the tides and waves. Even though the sun affects all ocean activity, the gravitational pull of the moon primarily drives the tides, and the wind powers the ocean waves.

Wave energy is the capture of the power from waves on the surface of the ocean. It is one of the newer forms of renewable or ‘green’ energy under development, not as advanced as solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, ethanol, geothermal companies, and flywheels. However, interest in wave energy is increasing and may be the wave of the future in coastal areas according to many sources including the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems (Report 2009).

Although fewer than 12 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed to date worldwide, we find a significant increase of investments reaching over $2 billion for R&D worldwide within the ocean power market including the development of commercial ocean wave power combination wind farms within the next three years.

Tidal turbines are a new technology that can be used in many tidal areas. They are basically wind turbines that can be located anywhere there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines will have to be much sturdier than wind turbines. They will be heavier and more expensive to build but will be able to capture more energy. For example, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity.

Companies to Watch in the Developing Wave Power Industry:

Siemens AG (SI) is a joint venture partner of Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, a leader in advanced hydro power technology and services, which owns Wavegen, Scotland’s first wave power company. Wavegen’s device is known as an oscillating water column, which is normally sited at the shoreline rather than in open water. A small facility is already connected to the Scottish power grid, and the company is working on another project in Northern Spain.

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc (OPTT) develops proprietary systems that generate electricity through ocean waves. Its PowerBuoy system is used to supply electricity to local and regional electric power grids. Iberdrola hired the company to build and operate a small wave power station off Santona, Spain, and is talking with French oil major Total (TOT) about another wave energy project off the French coast. It is also working on projects in England, Scotland, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Pelamis Wave Power, formerly known as Ocean Power Delivery, is a privately held company which has several owners including various venture capital funds, General Electric Energy (GE) and Norsk Hydro ADR (NHYDY.PK). Pelamis Wave Power is an excellent example of Scottish success in developing groundbreaking technology which may put Scotland at the forefront of Europe’s renewable revolution and create over 18,000 green high wage jobs in Scotland over the next decade. The Pelamis project is also being studied by Chevron (CVX).

Endesa SA ADS (ELEYY.PK) is a Spanish electric utility which is developing, in partnership with Pelamis, the world’s first full scale commercial wave power farm off Aguçadoura, Portugal which powers over 15,000 homes. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity from 2.25MW to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

RWE AG ADR (RWEOY.PK) is a German management holding company with six divisions involved in power and energy. It is developing wave power stations in Siadar Bay on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland.

Australia’s Oceanlinx offers an oscillating wave column design and counts Germany’s largest power generator RWE as an investor. It has multiple projects in Australia and the U.S., as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Britain.

Alstom (AOMFF.PK) has also announced development in the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides adding to the further interest from major renewable power developers in this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced several wave energy developments including a cost-shared value of over $18 million, under the DOE’s competitive solicitation for Advanced Water Power Projects. The projects will advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers. The DOE has selected the following organizations and projects for grant awards:

First Topic Area: Technology Development (Up to $600,000 for up to two years)

Electric Power Research Institute, Inc (EPRI) (Palo Alto, Calif.) Fish-friendly hydropower turbine development & deployment. EPRI will address the additional developmental engineering required to prepare a more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbine for the commercial market and allow it to compete with traditional designs.

Verdant Power Inc. (New York, N.Y.) Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power kinetic hydropower systems rotors. Verdant will design, analyze, develop for manufacture, fabricate and thoroughly test an improved turbine blade design structure to allow for larger, higher-power and more cost-effective tidal power turbines.

Public Utility District #1 of Snohomish County (SnoPUD) (Everett, Wash.) Puget Sound Tidal Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. SnoPUD will conduct in-water testing and demonstration of tidal flow technology as a first step toward potential construction of a commercial-scale power plant. The specific goal of this proposal is to complete engineering design and obtain construction approvals for a Puget Sound tidal pilot demonstration plant in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Sound.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company – San Francisco, Calif. WaveConnect Wave Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. PG&E will complete engineering design, conduct baseline environmental studies, and submit all license construction and operation applications required for a wave energy demonstration plant for the Humboldt WaveConnect site in Northern California.

Concepts ETI, Inc (White River Junction, Vt.) Development and Demonstration of an Ocean Wave Converter (OWC) Power System. Concepts ETI will prepare detailed design, manufacturing and installation drawings of an OWC. They will then manufacture and install the system in Maui, Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) – Manassas, Va., Advanced Composite Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – “OTEC”, cold water pipe project. Lockheed Martin will validate manufacturing techniques for coldwater pipes critical to OTEC in order to help create a more cost-effective OTEC system.

Second Topic Area, Market Acceleration (Award size: up to $500,000)

Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.) Wave Energy Resource Assessment and GIS Database for the U.S. EPRI will determine the naturally available resource base and the maximum practicable extractable wave energy resource in the U.S., as well as the annual electrical energy which could be produced by typical wave energy conversion devices from that resource.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.) Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the U.S. Georgia Tech will utilize an advanced ocean circulation numerical model to predict tidal currents and compute both available and effective power densities for distribution to potential project developers and the general public.

Re Vision Consulting, LLC (Sacramento, Calif.) Best Siting Practices for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies With Respect to Environmental and Navigational Impacts. Re Vision will establish baseline, technology-based scenarios to identify potential concerns in the siting of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices, and to provide information and data to industry and regulators.

Pacific Energy Ventures, LLC (Portland, Ore.) Siting Protocol for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Projects. Pacific Energy Ventures will bring together a multi-disciplinary team in an iterative and collaborative process to develop, review, and recommend how emerging hydrokinetic technologies can be sited to minimize environmental impacts.

PCCI, Inc. (Alexandria, Va.) Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Technologies: Identification of Potential Navigational Impacts and Mitigation Measures. PCCI will provide improved guidance to help developers understand how marine and hydrokinetic devices can be sited to minimize navigational impact and to expedite the U.S. Coast Guard review process.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAI) – San Diego, Calif., International Standards Development for Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy. SAIC will assist in the development of relevant marine and hydrokinetic energy industry standards, provide consistency and predictability to their development, and increase U.S. industry’s collaboration and representation in the development process.

Third Topic Area, National Marine Energy Centers (Award size: up to $1.25 million for up to five years)

Oregon State University, and University of Washington – Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU and UW will partner to develop the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center with a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development for the U.S. Center activities are structured to: facilitate device commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.

University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing.

Types of Hydro Turbines

There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water— the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Impulse Turbines

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine, for example Pelton or Cross-Flow is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

Reaction Turbines

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines include the Propeller, Bulb, Straflo, Tube, Kaplan, Francis or Kenetic are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

Types of Hydropower Plants

There are three types of hydropower facilities: impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage. Some hydropower plants use dams and some do not.

Many dams were built for other purposes and hydropower was added later. In the United States, there are about 80,000 dams of which only 2,400 produce power. The other dams are for recreation, stock/farm ponds, flood control, water supply, and irrigation. Hydropower plants range in size from small systems for a home or village to large projects producing electricity for utilities.

Impoundment

The most common type of hydroelectric power plant (above image) is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. The water may be released either to meet changing electricity needs or to maintain a constant reservoir level.

The Future of Ocean and Wave Energy

Wave energy devices extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

Wave energy rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Japan, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. The West Coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.
In general, careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave energy systems to a minimum. Wave energy system planners can choose sites that preserve scenic shorefronts. They also can avoid areas where wave energy systems can significantly alter flow patterns of sediment on the ocean floor.

Economically, wave energy systems are just beginning to compete with traditional power sources. However, the costs to produce wave energy are quickly coming down. Some European experts predict that wave power devices will soon find lucrative niche markets. Once built, they have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use — seawater — is FREE.

The current cost of wave energy vs. traditional electric power sources?

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kWh.

For now, the best wave generator technology in place in the United Kingdom is producing energy at an average projected/assessed cost of 6.7 cents kWh.

In comparison, electricity generated by large scale coal burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utilities districts.

Currently, the United States, Brazil, Europe, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France all lead the developing wave energy industry that will return 30% growth or more for the next five years.

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ISABEL ORDONEZ, Dow Jones News Service, October 6, 2008

Surfers aren’t the only ones itching to jump in the water and catch some big waves.

Dozens of companies, from oil giant Chevron Corp. to smaller firms like Ocean Power Technologies Inc., have invested in or are evaluating the potential of technology designed to harness electrical energy from waves, tides and currents.

Ocean Power, of Pennington, N.J., and Verdant Power Inc., of New York, are among the firms that already have built or plan to build wave and tidal power stations in oceans or adjacent waters. Others, such as Chevron, are seeking government approval to study the feasibility of such projects. All are in a race to harness what some scientists contend is among the nation’s largest unexploited sources of renewable energy.

“Chevron is monitoring ocean energy technology and considering how it might be integrated into our operations,” says Kim Copelin, a spokeswoman for the San Ramon, Calif., company, which is seeking a permit from the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission to start researching a possible tidal-power project in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

These projects represent a rebirth of interest in the ocean and other waters as a source of energy, which intensified during the 1970s oil crises but fizzled in the 1980s when the price of oil dropped. Now, with concerns growing about global climate change, foreign oil dependency and rising commodity prices, companies and governments are taking another look.

Ocean-energy technology is in its infancy, and big hurdles to its widespread use remain. Among them: figuring out how to economically produce power on a large scale without harming marine life, and navigating a permitting process that companies say is lengthy and cumbersome but that some government agencies say is necessary to protect the environment.

Despite the hurdles, supporters believe there is an abundance of energy sitting off the U.S. coast just waiting to be tapped. While the amount of energy currently being produced by ocean-energy projects is minuscule, the Electric Power Research Institute — the research arm of U.S. utility companies — estimates that oceans eventually could supply about 10% of the electricity consumed in the U.S.

“Oceans are an enormous resource that should be seriously considered as part of the U.S. renewable energy portfolio,” says Sean O’Neill, president of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, a national trade organization. Oceans “have waves, tides, currents, even offshore winds that don’t need to compete for precious land resources to generate plenty of electricity.”

Predictability of Tides

Companies are using a variety of devices to create electricity from moving water.

Ocean Power, for example, uses a network of buoys. The up-and-down movement of the ocean’s waves is converted into hydraulic pressure by pistons and cylinders located inside the buoys. That pressure spins a turbine, which turns a generator. The resulting electricity is sent ashore via an underwater cable. The company has a contract with the U.S. Navy to install and test its devices off the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. It also is working with a utility company in California and Oregon to build four wave-power stations, pending federal approvals.

verdantVerdant Power, meanwhile, produces power for a supermarket and parking lot using six underwater turbines in New York’s East River. The movement of water from the river’s tides turns blades on the turbines, creating a rotary motion that runs a generator. The company says it has a list of customers waiting for it to get the necessary approval to start generating electricity on a larger scale.

The prime territory in the U.S. to harvest energy from wave power is in the Pacific Ocean, off the coasts of Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and northern and central California. The optimum spot for tapping into ocean currents, which are steady flows of water going in a prevailing direction, is off the shores of south Florida, while parts of the Alaska coastline, including the upper Cook Inlet around Anchorage, have some of the strongest tides in the world. The edges of Maine, New York, San Francisco and Washington state’s Puget Sound also look to be ideal for tidal energy, researchers say.

Tidal energy is drawing special interest because, though intermittent, it is more predictable than wind, solar or wave energy. While those energy sources rely on the weather, tides depend on the position of the sun, Earth and moon and gravitational forces that can be accurately predicted years in advance, says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

Regulatory Jockeying

New York, Maine, Alaska and other coastal states are investing in ocean energy projects, as is the U.S. Department of Energy, which spent $7.5 million in fiscal 2008 and could spend as much as $35 million in fiscal 2009 to help advance the viability and cost competitiveness of ocean water driven power systems.

“We need everything we can get to try to address energy supply issues,” says Steven Chalk, deputy assistant secretary for renewable energy at the Department of Energy. “If we have a true supply diversification, we will be less vulnerable to, say, rising oil prices.”

But proponents of ocean energy say private investment is being deterred by what they call an overly lengthy and complicated permitting process. Companies sometimes need more than 20 local, state and federal regulatory permits to start ocean energy research, says Mr. O’Neill of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition. As an example, Verdant Energy says it has spent more than $2 million on environmental research and waited more than five years to get to the final stages of obtaining the permits it needs to install more underwater turbines and produce electricity on a larger scale.

“In a perfect world, the U.S. will have a fast way to deal with new emerging technologies that allow companies to get into the water and start testing how efficient the equipment is and to measure the environmental impacts,” says Mr. O’Neill. “But that is just a dream.”

The projects facing the biggest logjams are those proposed for federal waters on the outer continental shelf, which generally begins three miles beyond the U.S. shoreline. Companies interested in generating energy from that part of the ocean need approval from both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — the U.S. agency that regulates interstate natural gas and electricity transactions — and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department that oversees offshore energy development.

An effort to end what many companies say is a jurisdictional overlap was unsuccessful, and last month, the Minerals Management Service unveiled a set of proposed permitting rules, including environmental regulations, that it expects to have in place by later this year.

Mark Robinson, director of the office of energy projects at FERC, says his agency believes the Minerals Management Service’s proposed process is too long and costly and “will work to the disadvantage of an industry” that is trying to get on its feet.

The Minerals Management Service says that it is still evaluating comments on its proposed rules but that it has two main responsibilities when it comes to offshore energy production: securing the nation’s energy resources and protecting the environment. “We take both very seriously,” says David Smith, the agency’s deputy chief of public affairs. “We work to try to find that balance.”

In the meantime, the Minerals Management Service is granting interim leases that allow companies to test the energy potential in various spots in the ocean. More than 10 companies have obtained interim leases to begin work along the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida and California. Still, there are no guarantees that those businesses will be able to obtain approval to work the patches of ocean they are researching.

Moving Too Fast?

Ocean-energy projects are also making surfers and fishermen nervous. Those groups say they want to be consulted on any proposed projects because the impact on ocean recreation, ecology, public safety and fishing remains mostly unknown.

“What we want is that any company who wants to put a project in waters used by commercial fishermen contact the local fishermen group and work with them so they don’t harm the fishing industry,” says Linda Buell of the Fisherman’s Advisory Committee of Tillamook, a large coastal county in Oregon. “Nothing right now is written into the rules.”

Marine scientists, meanwhile, want more research done on the unintended consequences that large ocean-energy structures could have on marine organisms. These structures could possibly conflict with migratory pathways of great whales, says George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University. “But this is largely unknown,” he says.

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LAURA MANDARO, MarketWatch, June 26, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – California released a draft plan on Thursday to reduce the state’s projected greenhouse gas emissions by nearly one-third, in part by creating a cap and trade program that could serve as a blueprint for a national carbon emissions market.

The 77-page “climate change draft scoping plan” lays out the framework for California to meet the goals of a 2006 law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

This target means electric utilities, industrial users, fuel refiners such as Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips and builders will have to lower their combined output of carbon dioxide by one-tenth from today’s levels and 30% from projected 2020 emissions of the gas thought to contribute to global warming.

The success of California’s efforts to scale back greenhouse gas emissions using a mix of regulations and market mechanisms could provide a roadmap for a national standard, largely thanks to the state’s size and the aggressive goals it has set.

“It certainly paves the way,” said Milo Sjardin, head of the North American division of New Carbon Finance, a carbon emissions research and analysis firm. “Any federal program may take some of California’s experience on board,” he said.

The California plan also seeks to expand the amount of electricity utilities such as PG&E Corp. and Edison International generate from renewable resources to 33% by 2020. Today, just 12% of the state’s electricity comes from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources.

Cap and trade to launch in 2012

The nation’s most populous state says it will achieve these ambitious goals by putting in place strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions, caps that give users of fossil fuel a financial incentive to put in place heavier pollution controls.

A key part of this plan is the establishment of a market to allow companies to trade their carbon allowances with companies from neighboring Western states and Canadian provinces that are producing less than their allowed emissions — or that engage in an activity, such as planting trees, that lowers emissions.

The head of the panel charged with implementing the state’s global warming law said board members are using as a model the cap-and-trade program established by the U.S. government to restrict emissions that cause acid rain, which was part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

“When industry knew they had to come under a cap, they came up with measures that were much cheaper than anyone thought,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. “Having a cap out there spurs the innovation,” she said in a conference call with reporters.

California’s cap and trade program, set for launch in 2012, will also present national companies with a second set of standards with which to comply. A group of Northeastern states is planning to launch a smaller cap and trade program next year.

The addition of another set of regulations “puts increasing pressure on the federal government to put something in place to level the playing field,” said New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, last year introduced a national climate bill – which the Senate tabled in June — designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 70% by 2050.

Both major-party presumptive presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama have said they support a national standard for carbon emissions.

Development of a U.S. carbon-trading market is following the rapid growth of the now $50 billion carbon-trading market in Europe, where corporations have been trading emissions-reductions credits as part of meeting the Kyoto Protocol. California’s market will likely start at a much smaller level. New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin estimates it could reach $10 billion by 2015.

If the entire country were to incorporate such a program, the size of the market could hit $1 trillion by 2020, he says.

Bringing to fruition California’s plan, let alone a national version, faces stumbling blocks.

In the state’s Senate, the Republican caucus is pushing for a delay of certain parts of the 2006 bill it says make it too expensive for businesses in a time of economic duress.

Nonetheless, the state’s largest utilities are preparing for the state to push through the caps, which will cover 85% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

San Francisco-based utility PG&E says 13% of its power comes from renewable energy sources. By 2012, that level should reach about 22%, said Keely Wachs, a spokesman for the utility, which serves 15 million customers in Northern and Central California.

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