Will Cali’s Latest Wave Power Project Sink or Sail With Regulators?

Wave energy seems a natural fit for coastal, cleantech-loving San Francisco. But while the technology has a big fan in Mayor Gavin Newsom — who blogs today on CleanTechnica about the city’s latest scheme to tap ocean energy eight miles off the city’s west coast — the buck stops with higher-up regulators.

PG&E (s PCG) and Finavera Renewables (s FVR) know the regulatory snags all too well. The companies had a deal to develop what would have been the country’s first commercial wave power project last year. But state commissioners decided the technology was too new and the prices too high for a viable project — and denied approval for the utility’s energy procurement contract.

golden-gateThis hasn’t discouraged Newsom. Having completed a wave power study, San Francisco submitted a preliminary application to federal regulators today for a permit to develop a 10 MW-30 MW project with potential to generate up to 100 MW. For comparison, the PG&E-Finavera deal that the Energy Commission shot down was for just 2 MW.

The regulatory hurdle now faced by Newsom’s pet project may not be as tough to surpass — although there will be more to come if all goes well. In this phase, the city is dealing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which holds authority over marine power development, rather than utility commissioners put off by the idea of ratepayers being saddled with the expense of experimental technology. A year ago FERC gave the nod for Finavera to conduct studies for a 100 MW wave farm off the Northern California coast.

At this point, San Francisco is leaving door wide open for different companies and technologies. Newsom has at least seven companies on his radar — mentioned by name in today’s post:

There are over 50 different types of wave devices currently under development, ranging from “pitching” devices (Pelamis), “overtopping” devices (Wave Dragon), oscillating water columns (OceanLinx) and “heaving” devices (Aquabuoy). Some of these devices are based on “biomimicry” principles, which imitate natural designs and processes (bioWave, WaveRoller). Others can even provide both wave power and desalination (CETO). Wave technology is still new, but the possibilities of clean, green energy produced by the ocean is very real, if we invest in the technology. We will look at all of these and others technologies to find what will work best for us in San Francisco’s waters.

Photo credit Flickr user Georgio