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PG&E, Wave Energy and the North Coast

by Christina Aanestad
Energy Giant, PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric wants to develop wave energy off the Mendocino and Humboldt County coast lines and tidal energy off the San Francisco coast. But, environmentalists and fishermen are concerned about the renewable energy's potential impacts on marine life and the North Coasts fishing economy.
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The North Coast Fishermans Association held a public meeting with PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric to present its plans for wave energy off the Mendocino coast. Business Manager for Renewable Energy at PG&E gave a presentation on the utilty’s proposal to develop wave energy off Fort Bragg’s coast.

“So these two diagrams show the areas of the preliminary permit applications that we’ve filed with FERC. These are the study areas. I want to be clear about that, that these are areas that we’ve asked for to study for a possible deployment of a wave power project. The one on the left is Mendocino.”

Mathur said PG&E has applied for access to 17 miles along the Mendocino coast and 4 miles into the sea. He adds, water depths would vary from 60 to 600 feet and the surrounding areas would be off limit to all maritime use. A local fisherman spoke out about the coastal area PG&E has applied for access to.

“What I see on that picture there is-that’s our fishing ground. That’s a hundred percent where we can fish-from 50 feet to 600. Because that is where the salmon live, that’s where the rock fish live, that’s where we catch the ling cod. So that’s our fishing ground, and if you put that there, you will kill the fishing industry-commercial and recreational.”

PG&E would conduct research on the environmental impacts and feasibility of wave energy within those 17 miles along the Fort Bragg coast. Mathur said PG&E is requesting 6 million dollars from the state’s Public Utilities Commission-the PUC to fund research for the federal permitting process. According to Mathur the permit process takes 3 years. But the amount of time could be substantially reduced to 6 months, under new proposed federal regulations. Mathar said the expedited process would apply to small scale energy projects, which is what PG&E proposes to do.

“The idea is that we would be-PG&E would be responsible for the permitting of the site and then bring in various devices to test on a small scale basis one or two devices. The devices that perform the best and had the least environmental impact and were the most cost effective would be the devices that would then be used to grow out the plant to a larger size.”

A larger scale project could take up a considerable amount of ocean access. Uday estimates for 40 megawatts of power the project would fill energy devices 5 miles down the Fort Bragg coast and 1 mile into the sea. That’s one third of the area PG&E proposed to research. The Surrounding ocean areas would also be off limits as buffer zones to the devices, which raised concerns with community members and fishermen. Community members voiced their concerns.

“To me it’s not right to take a fisherman’s job away to give another person a job…We could perhaps lobby for something like 6 million dollars to get this money for ourselves to become energy independent so we’re not paying these guys tax payer dollars to generate energy that we’re gonna have to buy from em’…I have some concerns mainly related to ecosystems and inter-tidal ecosystems on the coast here. The particular marine alga that we harvest for edible sea vegetable consumption here, have very specific needs…this is a company that is asking us to work with them and I’m saying on this very simple matter where our county has a 10 year policy of no herbicide use, they are refusing to comply.”

Despite the public criticism, Mathur emphasized the need for community input.

“The process for getting to a point where we could think about deploying a machine in the ocean is one that’s a long one. That involves the stakeholders, that involves discussions with everyone one in the community, including the fisherman and understanding their concerns and making sure that what we’re doing is something beneficial for the community. There’s no way that PG&E can go out just like anyone else can go out and do something unilaterally.”

But when asked if he meant the utility would drop its energy plans if that was the community’s wish. Mathar responded.

“There is a mechanism for everyone’s opinions to be voiced in that process, and there are stake holder agency’s some of which we’ve talked about here. There is the Federal Regulator Energy Commission that has a process for approving or disapproving these types of projects. So, if I understand your question correctly-that if everyone here has a negative opinion about this project, would we stop doing it? There are a lot of other people whose opinions we need to hear.”

Frank Hartzell, reporter for the Fort Bragg advocate had a couple questions for Mathur.

“You had said PG&E was devoted to transparency –you mentioned feasibility studies that you are doing right now. Would those be made public? Would that be part of the transparency?” (Silence…Chuckle)
“Ah, I don’t know the answer to that.”
“You’re going to check in on that?”
“Yeah, (Chuckle) I’ll check into that.”

Currently there are 23 filings for wave energy permits up and down the west coast, from San Francisco to the Canadian border. PG&E has applied for two, one off the Mendocino coast and one off the Humboldt Coast. Mathur said the North coast is ideal because of the wave activity.

Chevron oil and gas applied for a wave energy permit, off the Fort Bragg coast and then pulled out after attending a few resilient community meetings last month. The reason-they found a better location. After PG&E’s meeting, Mathur says he understands why the oil giant canceled its plans. But, PG&E seems unwavering in their intent to move forward with wave energy off the Fort Bragg coast. So far. I’m Christina Aanestad reporting for the KZYX&Z Community News.

In related PG&E news the utility settled a 35 million dollar lawsuit for PG&E customers who were illegally back-billed for electricity and gas services between 200o and 2004. TURN, the Utility Reform Network , a utility watchdog took the energy giant to court alleging over 34 hundred customers had their power shut off for nonpayment of illegal back bills. The lawsuit comes at a time when pg&E is working to boost and green it’s public image.

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