February 10, 2010

Making Waves in California

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

Hear the 1 minute show:

Last December, California's largest utility company PG&E committed to the development of an Offshore Wave Energy Power Plant on the shores of Humboldt County. The Canadian company Finavera Renewables has cut a deal with California to build an ocean wave energy plant 2.5 miles off the coast that will service PG&E's customers throughout northern and central California.

The plant is expected to offset greenhouse gas emissions by displacing an estimated 245 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. The plant is expected to begin delivering clean, renewable electricity to northern Californians in 2012 -- granted it passes an extensive regulatory analysis.

Before any construction is started on the project, this two to three year regulatory "permitting process" will be undertaken, involving several tiers of regulators and community stakeholders, and extensive, if not exhaustive, impact studies by a variety of organizations. This regulatory process is not only slow and painstaking, it is particularly difficult for non-existing energy technologies, which is to say, the clean technologies.

The regulatory process that any renewable energy company must face today was designed over half a century ago and thus does not allow for the multitudinous aspects of today's technologies. This slows an disrupts the approval time for clean energy power projects. "And so," says tidal power developer Trey Taylor, " already underworked, understaffed resource agencies like FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] would just as soon as have these new technologies go away."

Indeed, outdated regulations are what's holding the renewable energy industry back in the U.S., according to Roger Bedard of EPRI, an electric power research institute in Palo Alto.

Despite the hurdles and delays of the permit process, Finavera is obviously very excited about wave energy. From an entrepreneurial perspective, Finavera is quite clearly enthused about the short and long term potential of wave energy. "Propelled by the worldwide demand for renewable energy, ocean wave energy has the potential to become commercially viable quicker than other renewable technologies, achieving the fastest growth rate of all energy sources and generating significant wealth."

While I would never go as far as to agree that "greed is good", in the case of renewable energy technology, a balanced amount of profit motive is essential, at least until our government gets off its duff, stops subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and begins funding clean energy projects, as we all know it should. In lieu of that, venture capital funding will be the life blood of renewable energy research, development and implementation.