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Ocean Wave Technology Considered by Fort Bragg


Here’s an article describing where water’s natural process may power an alternative energy for a city.

City, county, others officially jump into wave energy fray
By FRANK HARTZELL Of the Advocate

For those who, like Socrates, like questions better than answers, the
Oct. 5 wave energy forum sponsored by the Alliance for Democracy and
other groups at Fort Bragg Town Hall was all about currently
unanswerable questions.

Fort Bragg Mayor Doug Hammerstrom and local wave energy buffs Cindy
Arch and George Reinhardt, along with Richard Charter of Defenders of
Wildlife, provided a wealth of facts about the risks and benefits of
the emerging technology.

But the panelists asked rather than answered questions from the
audience. The only stand taken was that this should be a slow-moving,
locally led effort.

“It’s very gratifying to see a big group here,” said Hammerstrom. “A
necessary factor in this process is having an interested and involved

“We can look at this as some agency making determinations and how we
are going to react to them, or we can be assertive and determine
together as a community whether this is an opportunity or a
boondoggle,” the mayor added.

The forum revealed a much deeper dichotomy than the query in the name
of the event – “Opportunity or Boondoggle?”

A technology that would help with global warming and empower the
community might also injure the ocean and be controlled by global
corporations, a packed house heard.

“Renewable energy does not equate with sustainable energy,” said
Charter. There is a cost to everything in the universe, it’s a
principle called entropy.'”

“I believe we are moving into an era when we need to pursue all the
alternative energy options, with our eyes wide open,” said Reinhardt,
an energy and localization activist, who was among the first to
investigate the possibility of wave energy locally.

“We want to make sure we don’t end up like the Gulf States …,”
Reinhardt said. “We need to exert local control … As of now there
isn’t a mechanism, we have to do that on our own.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Company has a pending preliminary permit for
waters off Fort Bragg with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
(FERC). A five-year study permit could lead to a 40-megawatt facility
with a lease as long as 50 years.

Reinhardt said the community should be cognizant of opportunities
including “actual creation of jobs and an infusion of capital into
our community.”

He also described the possibility of funding a new marine study
economy, involving a business incubator and also the Noyo Center, a
marine scientific effort on the old Georgia Pacific mill site.

“There is also the possibility of our actually getting income by
partnering with a renewable energy installation,” said Reinhardt.

Much of the discussion at the forum favored a smaller, slower wave
energy effort without the current prospect of 30 to 50 year leases
provided to big corporations or utilities.

“We shouldn’t get wedded to any particular size, just because the big
utility on the block says that’s what they want. We should pick a
scale that would allow the fishing community to continue and prosper
… a size that can be reliably decommissioned,” Reinhardt said.

Charter said there are between 3,000 and 3,900 proposed wave energy
devices along the coast of Oregon.

“When you wind up in the middle of a Klondike wave rush as you are
right now in Mendocino County,” Charter said, “you look and say one
of these would be nice.’ But that isn’t what happens. It’s like when
ants get in your kitchen – you can’t get just one. One wave energy
device is not economically interesting.”

Dan Platt, president of the Salmon Trollers Association, opposed the
idea off Fort Bragg because of the feared scale of wave energy.

“If they are tested and they work, we are going to be looking at a
lot of wave generators, no matter what we say about wanting just a
few,” Platt said.

“There is such a major [energy] push going on we are looking at
nothing or a whole lot of these,” he added.

PG&E’s proposal is to test several different technologies offshore.
Platt said a real laboratory would be more appropriate.

“[These] can be modeled in some sort of testing pond that somebody
like the Corps of Engineers must have. Something like that should be
done rather than using our coast here as the laboratory,” he said.

Part-time resident and dedicated surfer Tom Reed proposed formation
of a local Municipal Utility District (MUD) to assert control over
the issue.

“We can just power this area, from Westport to Mendocino,” said Reed.
“If you keep it down to a few devices, I think the whales are smart
enough to go around. If you keep it small, fishermen will be OK with
that,” said Reed.

PG&E says it will need to spend millions in research on wave energy,
a reason some locals like the idea of working with the big utility.
PG&E is scrambling to meet state law that demands it provide 20
percent of its power from solar, wind, wave, tidal and other
renewable sources by 2010.

Reinhardt chimed in to say that a MUD is “a very current idea in our

He said locals are watching efforts in the Bay Area to localize
utility services in this way.

“Lots of people are looking at this model. It is a very good idea,” he said.

Many in the audience wanted to know how many devices were needed to
power the coast.

“To power this coast is much less than the 40 megawatts proposed by
PG&E,” said Reinhardt. “That’s industrial California scale. I think
it’s about 10 megawatts to power our coast.”

Mary Jane Parks, who represents Finavera, a leading wave energy
company, said a debate about megawatts was premature.

“Your mayor was right in that this is just the beginning,” said
Parks. “There are many communities interested, but this is all still
only research and development. If you have only 10 acres of sea that
you want to devote to this, that’s all you have there,” said Parks.

Mayor Hammerstrom has taken two trips to Oregon to study the wave
energy process there, including attending an Oct. 2 FERC hearing on
shortening the permitting process to six months.

“The primary thing I saw at the FERC hearing is that determining a
limit on the devices is not part of their process,” Hammerstrom said.

“If 50 applications came to FERC off Fort Bragg and 50 met their
checklist, we would have 50, as far as FERC is concerned.”

He said the city and county should commence a zoning process to
determine how many and what sites would be suitable.

“We have the potential to have our own renewable, low-carbon energy
source, but we have a lot of questions to answer before we get to
that point,” he said.

According to Hammerstrom, in the “Oregon Solutions” model he has
studied, all the stakeholders, including fishing organizations, have
to sign off before the wave energy process goes forward. He
encouraged all those in attendance to return for a daylong Jan. 19
meeting to be hosted by the city and possibly the county at Fort
Bragg Town Hall.

California waters end three miles offshore. At that point the federal
Minerals Management Service claims control, not FERC. State agencies
have yet to weigh in.

PG&E’s Fort Bragg wave energy application extends from a half-mile to
6 miles offshore, showing the utility is aware that interagency feuds
may be important to where the project is denied or approved.

“You [will] have a bridging permit,” Charter said.

Charter indirectly criticized local governments for not officially
filing with the FERC process for the PG&E proposal off Fort Bragg.

The City of San Francisco and Humboldt County had both commented well
before the Oct. 5 hearing but no Mendocino County government had.

That changed Oct 10, when Fort Bragg filed a statement with FERC that
a City Council resolution in favor of wave energy which PG&E filed
with its application was not the same thing as city support of the
PG&E plan as currently configured. The county of Mendocino filed a
motion to intervene in the wave energy issue with FERC on Oct. 15.

A third significant government player is also now in the game.

Last week, the Minerals Management Service announced it was
supporting and attending an Oct. 11-12 conference in Newport, Ore.,
on potential ecological effects of wave energy. This was the first
time that a federal agency has asserted its role as regulator.

Crowd favorites at the Fort Bragg forum were scientific presentations
by Charter on the upwelling currents off Fort Bragg and by Warren
Wade, of the local Audubon Society.

Charter diagrammed the California Current from where it upwells north
of Fort Bragg to its wide spread of nutrients to the south. He said
it was one of the five most important upwelling currents on the

These recharge areas, which comprise less than 2 percent of the
surface of the ocean, have historically supplied half of the world’s
fish catch, Charter said.

Wade described how birds, fish and marine mammals that prefer warmer
climes live on the food provided by the currents off Fort Bragg.

“Albatross on Midway Island are flying 3,000 miles here and 3,000
miles back to feed their young. The parents alternate and the chick
gets fed once a week,” Wade said.

“We need this desperately,” Wade said. “We need to get off the
carbon-based economy. We also must do this one step at a time and
study very carefully. [If not], we could have a barren Northern
Pacific Ocean in short order.”

Local geologist Skip Wollenberg said the rough nature of the rocks,
cliffs and offshore terrain makes the Mendocino Coast a much more
costly and difficult site to develop than the one in Humboldt County.

“I think Fort Bragg may lend itself to a test site,” said Wollenberg.

Electrician Richard Marino expressed worries that basic electrical
issues had not been discussed.

“All generators produce heat,” Marino said. “What is the impact of
dumping this many heaters into the ocean? How are the magnetic lines
of force coming out of the generators and onto the shore going to
effect the ocean?”

A wide range of worries were expressed – from who will be responsible
for decommissioning the devices to the possibility nothing will ever
come of wave energy.

“I have a worry about the baleen whales migrating,” said Fort Bragg
resident Rainbow. “I don’t think their sonar is as great as toothed
whales. That gives me a worry and concern that they might run into
these rigs. Things need to be clear and easy and safe for the gray

Fort Bragg Councilmembers Dan Gjerde and Meg Courtney, along with
Mendocino County Supervisor Kendall Smith, Heidi Dickerson from
Congressman Mike Thompson’s office and Ian Caliendo of PG&E were all
on hand to listen to the questions. None spoke.

Town Hall was packed, with a different crowd than regulars at the
First Friday Alliance for Democracy events.

“Anything we do is going to have some impact on the environment, and
this has a lot less than the way we are generating energy now,” said
Jack Smith, retired Fort Bragg car dealer. “We need this. Let’s do

“Some of the speakers were very interesting,” said Gerry Smith, his
wife. “Rainbow did a very nice job,” she said.

The event was sponsored by the Alliance for Democracy, the Ocean
Protection Coalition, Noyo Headlands Unified Design Group, and the
Mendonoma Marine Life Conservancy.