First Wave Energy Project Provokes Federal-State Clash

OLYMPIA, Washington, January 21, 2008 (ENS) – The Washington state Department of Ecology has filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, for reconsideration of a decision that FERC made last month to grant five-year environmental approval for a wave energy project at Makah Bay, in far western Washington state.

The license is the first ever issued by the Commission for a wave, tidal or current energy project in the United States.

The project by Finavera Renewables of Vancouver, British Columbia, received FERC approval on December 20, 2007, but the state agency says FERC “sidestepped Ecology’s authority to provide timely environmental reviews of renewable energy projects.”

Finavera AquaBuoy wave
energy generator (Photo
courtesy Finavera)

The Finavera offshore energy project consists of four large wave buoys anchored three miles or less from the Makah Bay shore that would produce one megawatt of electricity. Power would be transmitted to shore by an undersea transmission line.

The land portion part of the project is the property of the Makah Indian Nation. The aquatic portion of the project is within Washington State waters, the federal Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and the Washington State Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge.

Finavera says the project is expected to generate 1500 megawatts per year, which is enough energy to supply about 150 homes in the Makah Indian Nation town of Neah Bay.

But Washington Department of Ecology officials say any FERC licensing decision must incorporate the state’s decision. For authority, they point to two federal laws – the federal Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning said the state agency “fully supports renewable energy projects in Washington, especially those designed to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gases and other climate-changing pollutants.”

“However,” he said, “the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not have the authority – by statute or Congressional intent – to set aside existing environmental laws designed to protect our state’s water quality and shorelines.”

The decision by FERC gives Finavera Renewables a conditional five-year license for the proposed project. The FERC license is conditional on the company obtaining all additional federal and state permits before construction may begin.

Gordon White, manager for the state agency’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance program, said the Department of Ecology and the state Office of Regulatory Assistance are on track to make a water-quality certification decision for Finavera by mid-February.

He said that the department also was “on course” to determine that the project was consistent with state and federal shoreline regulations.

“By trying to circumvent other state and federal environmental permit processes, FERC’s decision gives companies like Finavera no assurance that their project will finally meet all environmental regulations,” White said.

“It could even make it more difficult for companies to get reliable funding by muddying the waters in our attempt to streamline the state permitting process for renewable energy projects,” he said.

White noted that there are eight to 10 other “in-water” renewable energy projects either seeking, or about to seek, environmental permits from Ecology. Some of the potential projects would be located in the Puget Sound, the Columbia River and on the state’s west coast.

“It is imperative that we have a clear efficient process for reviewing these projects,” White said. “Unfortunately FERC’s decision to issue a temporary permit decision leaves everyone unclear about whether a project has their approval or not.”

Regardless of the federal-state clash, Finavera Renewables CEO Jason Bak called the project, “an important part of the commercial development of wave energy in the United States.”

“The Makah Indian Nation has been a strong partner in this project, and deserves credit for its vision and desire to tap into the incredible potential of ocean energy,” Bak said.

“The Makah Nation is pleased to join with Finavera in a new energy venture – capturing electricity from the infinite wave energy power that results from the gravitational pull of the moon” said Ben Johnson Jr., chairman of the Makah Tribal Council.

Robert Martin, chief executive of the Makah Energy Enterprise, said, “We look forward to generating renewable, carbon free energy for the Tribe’s members and to growing our business relationship with Finavera to demonstrate this visionary technology.”

View This Story On Eco-mmunity Map.