Pacific Gas & Electric has volunteered to pay the city of Fort Bragg’s costs for wave energy as any other developer of a local project would do, City Manager Linda Ruffing told a City Council committee on Tuesday.
After nearly two years of local pleas for specifics about the WaveConnect project, PG&E representatives surprised city and county representatives with many new details. Those included the promise by PG&E that all environmental studies would be public, not private information. The utility 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.
PG&E representatives had said in the past that the pilot license was not a good fit because they wanted to take all the time needed for study.
On Tuesday, the pilot license process became the biggest issue for Mayor Doug Hammerstrom and other 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 said Fort Bragg has had more interest in wave energy than anywhere else in California.
Ruffing told Miles that FERC’s 30-day comment period for the pilot license was an “outrageously” short amount of time for comments, a concern echoed by Hammerstrom and Terri Gross from the Mendocino County Counsel’s Office.
Hammerstrom said 30 days wasn’t enough time to hire a consultant much less employ one to provide comments for the city. He said further there should be a provision to react to the suggestions of others made during that 30-day period.
The much quicker pilot license process was invented in the heyday of Neoconservative policy from the Bush administration which sought new ways to cut through red tape. Miles said she couldn’t answer questions about how the Obama administration might change this approach, as that was beyond the scope of her visit to Fort Bragg.
Miles said the pilot process is intended to cause minimal impacts with more extensive monitoring while generating power. A pilot project must be able to be shut down and removed quickly under FERC rules.
Ironically, PG&E may have chosen the faster pilot process to give themselves more time, locals at the morning meeting speculated.
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 next March to get started.
Miles, who is director of FERC’s Division of Hydropower licensing, provided lengthy and knowledgeable explanations of convoluted FERC processes during a 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.
But 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.
PG&E told the city that wave energy is “more robust farther from shore,” Ruffing reported. Questions have been repeatedly raised locally and never answered about the impracticality of attaching cables to the bottom in waters as deep as those more than three miles from shore.
Some locals have speculated the real intent of working so far from shore is oil and gas exploration, a notion PG&E has denied.
PG&E has not released any of its new information to the press. Ruffing said she emailed her summary of what the company is now saying to the PG&E representatives, who provided no objections by reply.
While planning for an eventual project many miles from shore, PG&E will give up on areas more than 3 miles from shore for now, they have told FERC.
PG&E told the city 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 3 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 expects that MMS and FERC will have worked out their dispute by the time PG&E is ready to apply for a long-term license,” Ruffing reported.
PG&E representatives are now promising significant help to local governments.
“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,” Ruffing reported.
Additionally, the city and county have been promised that PG&E will 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.
That question has come up more with GreenWave LLC, which has proposed a wave energy project off Mendocino village. The LLC stands for limited liability company, a business form invented to allow greater risks to be taken.
GreenWave’s preliminary permit application is in the public comment phase until Feb. 3. The GreenWave permit has not been issued, as was reported here previously. FERC always grants these permits, unless they directly violate federal law, which is not the case with GreenWave.
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.
She came equipped with a powerpoint presentation that illustrated the process. She offered a map that showed all hydrokinetic projects. There have been 137 hydrokinetic preliminary permits issued, with another 68 pending, as of December. Most of those are clustered in the Mississippi River, the Yukon River, below Niagara Falls and off the Washington, Oregon and Northern California coasts. The East Coast features a cluster of tidal energy projects.
Judith Vidaver and Char Flum, of the local Ocean Protection Coalition, also attended Tuesday morning’s Council. Committee meeting.
Jim Martin and John Innes of the FISH committee (Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics) also were in attendance. PG&E also apparently met with the FISH committee. Also on hand was Lisa Badenfort, who will now represent the Mendocino County Chief Executive’s Office on wave energy issues.
A report on Tuesday night’s public meeting with Miles will appear in the Jan. 22 edition of the Fort Bragg Advocate-News.