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JENNIFER DART, Westerly News, June 3, 2010

Several groups working on wave energy on the British Columbia coast gathered in Ucluelet this week to discuss developments in the industry and update local projects.

Representatives from the non-profit Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG) chaired the community open house, held June 1 at the Ucluelet Community Centre.

Also in attendance were academics, developers, and representatives from all levels of government, including the Yuu-cluth-aht First Nation and the District of Ucluelet.

OREG executive director Chris Campbell said developing the technology to harness energy from the ocean is a “long, slow process,” but Canadian companies are active internationally, “so it’s gradually becoming more and more real.”

The Ucluelet/Tofino area has long been considered an ideal site for an ocean renewable energy project given its coastal location and proximity to the BC Hydro grid.

“Ocean renewable energy is something that’s been making rattling noises for quite a few years in our area,” said Ucluelet mayor Eric Russcher. “It would be a new and different world we live in but an exciting prospect for us all.”

According to information from OREG, preliminary studies indicate the wave energy potential off Canada’s Pacific Coast is equal to approximately half of Canada’s electricity consumption.

There seems to be a new energy behind wave power in recent months, given in part to new advances in technology, and also specifically in B.C. because of the Liberal government’s Clean Energy Act, which has been tabled in the legislature but has yet to be passed.

Jeff Turner from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources said the Act is meant to achieve energy efficiency while maintaining low rates, generate employment in the clean energy sector, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While critics of the Act say it gives the province oversight on major projects like the Site C dam on the Peace River and could be mean higher hydro rates, the announcement has helped kick start development in areas like wave energy, where researchers are currently focused on pinpointing potential outputs.

Two wave energy projects are in development on the West Coast; one for the waters off Ucluelet and one in close proximity to the Hesquiaht communities at Hesquiaht Harbour and Hot Springs Cove.

John Gunton of SyncWave Systems Inc. presented his company’s plan for the SyncWave Power Resonator, a buoy class device that would be slack moored in depths of up to 200 metres. Simply put, this device captures energy from the upward and downward motion of the wave. Gunton said the company has provincial and federal funding, but is looking for a $3 million investment to complete its first two phases of development for placement near Hesquiaht Point.

A test resonator placed eight kilometres off Ucluelet in 40 metres of waters in December was collecting data for a period of about one month until a mast on it was destroyed. It was repaired, upgraded and redeployed in late April and a website will be set up by a group called the West Coast Wave Collaboration that is comprised of academics and industry representatives to transmit power data. Local partners in this project include the Ucluth Development Corporation, the District of Ucluelet and Black Rock Resort.

The other technology is a near shore device, placed in depths of 35 to 50 metres. The CETO device is owned by Carnegie Wave Energy of Australia, and was presented by David King at the open house. Seven metre cylinders capture wave energy and pump it to an onshore turbine. A government grant will also assist in the development of this technology.

But Jessica McIvoy of OREG said there are many questions left to be answered including what are the impacts on the ocean environment and sea life of such devices, and in turn how will the devices last in the ocean?

Campbell said an adaptive management approach to the technology seems like the best option to proceed with preliminary work, taking into account “critical indicators” in the natural environment.

Yuu-cluth-aht chief councillor Vi Mundy said she’s interested in these indicators after hearing concerns from her community, from fishers for example: “I’m hearing questions like what kind of impact will there be and what kind of standards have been developed so far [in the wave energy industry].”

But she also noted young people in her community are asking for green development that will provide year round employment.

“It’s really good to see that in young people,” Mundy said.

Anyone with questions about wave technology on the coast is invited to contact OREG at questions@oreg.ca.

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