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Posts Tagged ‘Rhode Island’

GRANT WELKER, Herald News, June 25, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA renewable energy consortium based at the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center has received a $950,000 federal grant to study the potential for a tidal-energy project between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, among other projects.

The New England Marine Renewable Energy Center, which includes professors and students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is developing a test site between the two islands that will determine the potential for a project that could power much of Martha’s Vineyard. Partners from other universities, including the University of Rhode Island, are researching other potential sites in New England for clean energy. The federal Department of Energy grant will mostly go toward the Nantucket Sound project but will also benefit other MREC efforts.

The ATMC founded the Marine Renewable Energy Center in spring 2008 through funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative based on the ATMC’s proposal with officials from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The partnership was hailed by UMass Dartmouth officials as an extension of the university’s outreach to Cape Cod and the islands. Creation of the tidal-energy project itself is still years off, said Maggie L. Merrill, MREC’s consortium coordinator. But the site, Muskeget Channel, has “a lot of potential,” she said.

UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology scientists are conducting the oceanographic surveys to locate what MREC calls “sweet spots,” where the currents run the fastest for the longest period of time. The test site will also be available to other clean energy developers to test their systems without needing to create costly test systems themselves, MREC said in announcing the grant.

Besides the federal grant, the MREC consortium is funded by UMass and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “While New England suffers from energy shortages and high prices, there is tremendous energy available in the ocean at our doorstep,” MREC Director John Miller said in the announcement. “MREC is here to open that door bringing electricity and jobs to our region.” Miller was given a Pioneer Award last week in Maine at the Energy Ocean Conference for MREC’s work. The conference, which bills itself as the world’s leading renewable ocean energy event, recognized MREC for developing technology, coordinating funding, publicizing development efforts and planning an open-ocean test facility.

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 23, 2009

images3In Octoberr 2008 Grays Harbor Ocean Energy applied for seven Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permits for projects located in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 to 25 miles offshore off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and in the Pacific Ocean about 5 to 30 miles off the coasts of California and Hawaii.

On April 9, 2009 FERC and MMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) clarifying jurisdictional responsibilities for renewable energy projects in offshore waters on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The stated goals of this MOU are to establish a cohesive, streamlined process, encouraging development of wind, solar, and ocean or wave energy projects.

In this MOU, FERC agrees to not issue preliminary permits for ocean or wave projects that are located on the Outer Continental Shelf. 

And as a result, on April 17, 2009 FERC dismissed all seven Grays Harbor’s pending preliminary permit applications for its proposed wave projects as each and every project is located on the OCS.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 7, 2009

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher today issued the following statement:

Today I announce my intention to step down as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), effective January 20, 2009. Although my term as commissioner does not end until 2012, I will also immediately begin to recuse myself from FERC business, as I explore other career opportunities.  

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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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RAY HENRY, March 11, 2008, BusinessWeek

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Environmental regulators want to ban construction of offshore wind turbines and wave energy developments in Rhode Island for at least one year, arguing there are no state rules in place to govern projects like the 100 turbines Gov. Don Carcieri has proposed building off the coast.

The ban, being considered Tuesday night, would greatly hamper Carcieri’s already longshot plan to get 15 percent of the state’s electricity from wind power in three years. And environmentalists say with electricity prices rising and global warming worries growing, now is not the time to shy away from alternative energy projects.

“This is the time to be getting going,” said Cynthia Giles, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which opposes the moratorium.

The Coastal Resources Management Council was scheduled to hear testimony and possibly vote on the moratorium during a meeting Tuesday evening.

The council’s staff wants the delay to create a zoning plan for the ocean, similar to how cities and towns designate land for businesses and homes, agency spokeswoman Laura Ricketson-Dwyer said. Finding an appropriate place for wind farms could minimize public opposition similar to protests that have delayed for years a major wind turbine project proposed for Nantucket Sound in neighboring Massachusetts.

“We want to make sure if it’s a public or private company that comes in and wants to put in wind farms, we can say, ‘OK, this is where they could go,'” Ricketson-Dwyer said.

But wind power advocates — including the governor — fear the moratorium could cause unnecessary delays.

Besides restricting big projects, the moratorium also could stop wind power developers from setting up offshore stations that collect wind information, Giles said. Developers generally need at least one year of data before deciding whether to build.

New Englanders pay some of the most expensive electricity bills in the nation, largely because the region depends heavily on expensive natural gas. Rhode Island lacks a single, major wind turbine but political leaders here have called for harnessing the wind that ripples along the coastline as a cheap and pollution-free energy source.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly unveiled bills this month to stimulate renewable energy development by forcing National Grid, the state’s largest energy company, to buy electricity from wind turbines and other renewable sources.

Carcieri also has proposed building enough offshore wind turbines to generate about 15 percent of the state’s electricity needs by 2011, a deadline his chief energy adviser has said is nearly impossible to meet. The moratorium would apply to state waters up to three miles off the coast, a zone that includes about three-quarters of the potential wind farm sites identified by Carcieri’s administration.

Carcieri plans to send his top energy adviser to argue against the moratorium.

“The signal we want to send is that we are moving full speed ahead on developing these renewable energy projects,” Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said. “A moratorium sends a conflicting message.”

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Note: This is an older article from 2007 yet still very current in its coverage of environmental and permitting concerns related to Wave Energy and Tidal Energy projects.

MICHAEL LUFKIN & LAURA FANDINO, Marten Law Group, July 11, 2007

The adoption of renewable energy portfolio standards promises to push forward investment in the development of wave and tidal power. Projects are being developed in New York, Washington, Oregon, California and other states, spurred in part by state laws requiring public and private utilities to obtain a portion of their electricity from renewable resources. As an example, Oregon recently adopted a renewable electricity portfolio standard which requires the state’s largest utilities to meet 25% of their electric load with new renewable energy resources by 2025. Challenges to these projects include the environmental and land use impacts associated with them. Just as wind power has drawn its share of opponents, so too are critics of tidal and wave energy raising concerns about the impacts of large-scale development of these resources.

What is Tidal and Wave Energy?

Two types of marine renewable energy resources have garnered substantial interest: wave energy and tidal energy. There are several methods to capture energy from ocean surface waves. For example, one wave power device slated for use by Finavera Renewables, Ltd. (“Finavera”) in Makah Bay, Washington, involves the use of moored wave energy conversion buoys (the “Aquabuoy”) similar in size to the large navigational aids that demarcate shipping lanes. Aquabuoy converts the kinetic energy of the vertical motion of waves into pressurized water, which is directed into a conversion system consisting of a turbine that drives an electrical generator. The power from the buoys is then transported to shore through the use of an anchored submarine transmission cable installed on or just beneath the sea floor. While the Finavera plans to operate the Makah Bay project 3.7 miles offshore, wave energy devices may be used at the shoreline, nearshore, and offshore.

Another ocean energy resource, tidal energy, captures energy from the rise and fall of tides. Most tidal energy projects rely on offshore turbines, which operate much like an underwater wind farm. The ebb and flow of the tides is used to turn the blades which are connected directly to an electrical generator. Energy produced by the system is transferred to shore through the use of a submarine transmission cable installed on the sea floor. In France, and several other countries, tidal energy production has involved the construction of a dam (or barrage) to block incoming and outgoing tides across a delta, estuaries, or other coastal basin area, where the amplitude of tides are increased. In that case, the ebb and flow of the tides is used to turn turbines, or push air through a pipe which then turns a turbine, that drives an electric generator.

Preliminary Projects

Eight tidal energy projects are currently under development in Washington State that use offshore turbine technology. On March 9, 2007, the Snohomish County Public Utility District (“PUD”) received preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) to conduct technical and economic feasibility studies and evaluate tidal energy potential at seven locations in Puget Sound: Spieden Channel, San Juan Channel, Guemes Channel, Agate Pass, Rich Passage, Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass. FERC has also granted a preliminary permit to Tacoma Power to evaluate the development of tidal power in the Tacoma Narrows. Each of the preliminary permits will enable these entities to study tidal energy at the permitted sites for a period of three years.

In addition to Washington State, FERC has issued preliminary permits for tidal energy projects in Alaska, California, Maine, Oregon, and New York. In New York, the Verdant Power Roosevelt Island Tidal (“RITE”) Project, is on its way to becoming the first tidal energy project to be licensed by FERC. FERC granted a preliminary permit for the RITE project, located in New York’s East River, in September 2002. FERC is licensing the RITE project under the authority granted through the preliminary permit. The project will consist of 200 turbines and will generate up to 10 MW of distributed power.

In addition, Finavera is currently developing a 1 MW demonstration wave power plant at Makah Bay, Washington. The company completed a Preliminary Draft Environmental Assessment in October of 2006 which concluded with a finding of no significant environmental effects from the technology. In Oregon, FERC issued preliminary permits to Ocean Power Technologies (“OPT”) to develop a project off the coast of Reesport, southwest of Eugene, and AquaEnergy Group, Ltd. to develop an offshore wave energy project in Coos Bay.

Environmental Concerns

The primary concerns raised by critics of tidal and wave energy projects are their potential adverse impacts on marine ecosystems, fishery resources, and mammals. Environmental concerns raised by these groups include noise, species’ effects, and the physical disturbance of marine habitat. Environmental noise is said by some to affect the behavioral patterns of marine species i.e., feeding, mating and migration in areas where the habitat of protected marine species overlaps with the project. Habitat disturbance is also raised as a concern, as is displacement of benthic organisms in the footprint of the construction, including endangered or threatened species. Other concerns raised are the potential loss of fishing areas and impacts on shellfish resources.

Operating concerns include: (a) potential injuries to marine wildlife and diving birds arising from direct contact with tidal energy turbines; (b) behavioral impacts to marine species; (c) habitat disturbance, including disturbance of contaminated sediments, and impacts to sensitive spawning and nursery areas; (d) water quality impacts; and (e) hydrodynamic impacts. Hydrodynamic impacts resulting from the extraction of energy and physical presence of tidal project structures can include direct alteration of area siltation patterns, and changes to area ecology by alteration of substrate type.

Additional Barriers to Commercial Development

Permitting Process

Because of the relative infancy of wave and tidal energy development, there remains some uncertainty and confusion over which federal and state agencies have regulatory jurisdiction over marine energy projects. Generally speaking, a project’s location determines which federal agency takes the lead in overseeing the permitting process. Under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”), FERC has the authority to regulate and license all hydroelectric facilities on navigable waters of the United States. FERC has interpreted its authority under the FPA broadly to include essentially all wave and tidal energy projects, including ocean projects. In 2005, Congress muddied the jurisdictional waters by granting lead federal agency status to the Minerals Management Service (“MMS”) for renewable energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”). Congress stated, however, that in granting MMS lead agency status over projects on the OCS, it was not eliminating the jurisdiction of other federal agencies. Thus for now, it appears that FERC and MMS will share lead agency status for OCS projects, while FERC will have exclusive authority to license projects in rivers and ocean waters out to the OCS.

The FERC Process

Most of the tidal and wave energy projects under consideration in the Pacific Northwest have not formally entered the FERC licensing process. Rather, these projects have received a preliminary permit from FERC which reserves a project location for the permit holder while environmental and feasibility studies are conducted. The preliminary permit is valid for three years. At the end of the three years, the permit holder must file a license application or lose priority for the location. Construction activities are not allowed during the period in which a project is being studied under a permit.

To construct and operate a tidal or wave energy project a developer must either obtain a hydropower operating license from FERC, or be granted an exemption from licensing. The process for obtaining a FERC operating license can often take five to seven years and requires significant analysis and consultation with state, federal, and tribal resource agencies. Operating licenses are normally granted for 30 to 50 year periods.

Because of the burdensome nature of the licensing process, some developers have sought an exemption from FERC licensing requirements. FERC may exempt hydropower projects “which are 5 megawatts or less, that will be built at an existing dam, or projects that utilize a natural water feature for head or an existing project that has a capacity of 5 megawatts or less and proposes to increase capacity.” FERC has shown a willingness to grant short term exemptions that allow for the deployment and testing of new generation technology. Projects determined to be exempt from FERC licensing requirements must still comply with applicable state and federal environmental and resource protection laws.

Transmission

Another issue affecting the commercial viability of wave and tidal power is the ability and cost of bringing the power to the market. Like other types of renewable based generation, wave and tidal power resources are often located a significant distance from load centers and/or existing transmission systems. The construction costs and additional environmental impacts associated with constructing transmission lines to bring wave and tidal power to the grid can be a challenge to the viability of a project.

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