WA Wave-Power Project
by Curt Woodward, Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A plan to generate electricity from the motion of waves has been approved by federal energy regulators, but the project faces more scrutiny before specially designed buoys begin bobbing off the Olympic Peninsula.
On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued British Columbia-based Finavera Renewables a license for its wave-energy pilot project near Cape Flattery, along a turbulent stretch of the Pacific coast.
Federal officials said it was the agency's first license for a project that produces electricity through the movement of currents, waves and tides.
Finavera wants to build four wave-energy buoys that would float in Makah Bay, generating enough power to light about 150 homes in Neah Bay each year. Anchored to the sea floor and connected to shore by power cables, the buoys would produce electricity by using waves to drive an internal turbine system.
The Makah Bay project is a test run for Finavera's technology. If successful, the company hopes investors will help bankroll the company's plans for larger wave-energy installations.
"The project itself is a stepping stone towards commercialization of wave energy on the West Coast," said Jason Bak, Finavera's CEO.
Finavera's first commercial-scale wave-energy project could be in California, where Pacific Gas and Electric already has a deal to buy electricity from a proposed buoy installation off the coast of Humboldt County.
The FERC license issued Thursday has some strings attached. Finavera can't start construction on the Makah Bay site until it gets approval from an array of other government agencies.
If construction moves ahead, the company has to meet several other requirements, including assessments of electromagnetic fields generated by the installation and monitoring of marine mammals, which could be disturbed by noise or run into the equipment.
Energy regulators also have authority to shut Finavera's pilot project down if it harms the surrounding environment.
The buoys would be located within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, a 3,300-square-mile buffer along the Olympic Peninsula where drilling, dredging and other industrial activities normally are prohibited. The land-based facilities would be located on the Makah Indian Reservation.
Carol Bernthal, the marine sanctuary's superintendent, said officials there must take a careful, skeptical view before granting approval for the project, to ensure it does not harm marine life or the environment.
For example, gray whales that move through the area feed relatively close to shore by scooping sediment from the sea floor - causing potential run-ins with Finavera's buoys, anchors and power cables.
"There's a lot of interest in alternative energy right now, so it's a tough issue," Bernthal said. "I think it's a good thing to ask hard questions."
Some in the crab fishing industry also have raised concerns about the buoy systems. They repeated those worries this fall, when a $2 million Finavera test buoy floating off the Oregon coast sank before it could be retrieved by the company.
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
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