Wednesday, July 23, 2008

FERC Ponders Allowing Public Input, Environmental Review of Proposal for Electrical Generators in Whale Route

It was one year ago that my article entitled "Limited Time Only - Act now to own your piece of the ocean off the Mendocino Coast" (posted below) was published. This week the alliance of Northern California coast commercial and recreational fishing associations known as Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH) has announced that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is extending its time to consider the FISH committee request for public participation and environmental analysis in developing federal licensing regulations for nascent wave energy generation projects.

In other words, FERC has to think about whether and how it would allow public participation and environmental analysis before issuing permits allowing PG&E and Chevron to place electrical generators and a grid in the Gray Whale Migration Route. More than 200 hydrokinetic projects have been proposed across the United States as a solution to environmental issues. Two wave energy projects are currently proposed for the coast off Mendocino County and one in Humboldt County, in one of the most flourishng marine areas on the West Coast. Seven are off the Oregon coast, including Lincoln County

Offshore from Mendocino County PG&E's proposal covers 68 square miles. Chevron's proposal is for a premilinary study. If implemented the proposals would require significant exclusion zones and would be located along the Gray Whale migration route. (See map above)

The City and County of San Francisco filed an initial statement in opposition to FERC even processing these applications because of lack of staff . In it's statement, the San Francisco argued:
While specifically not referring to this application, San Francisco believes the risk of sparking a 'gold rush' by ill prepared applicants with ill-conceived projects is too high and the drain on Commission resources in reviewing such applications would be too great.
But the process has moved on.

As in all such complex regulatory processes, before the potentially effected public could wrap its collective head around the meaning of the proposals, FERC established rules regarding the process which essentially precluded public involvement in the process. As one writer noted:
This pejorative May 21, 2008 FERC ruling rejects requests of FISH, Fort Bragg, Mendocino County and local stakeholders’ to rehear their right to participate in this wave energy development project. It is noted since onset of the Mendocino wave energy agenda, FERC and PG&E continue to swiftly move toward their goals while intentionally blocking all local, public participation. As wave energy development projects on the U.S. coasts progress, Americans are discovering that FERC’s convoluted wave energy licensing process is ill-defined, biased and discriminates against public participation.
As I noted in my article a year ago,
If you...want to get in on the action, you'd better hurry as FERC is likely to fast track these applications to approval before 2009 when a new President takes office.
What the County of Mendocino, the City of Fort Bragg, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, and Lincoln County, Oregon discovered is that FERC really didn't plan to hear from them. So they've joined the FISH Committee’s request for a rehearing of FERC's policies. According to a report by Recreational Fishing Alliance West Coast Region Director:
Potential negative impacts on marine life from wave buoys include electromagnetic pollution and interference with migratory finfish, whale entanglements and altering the bottom structure of the seabeds. Turbine devices submerged in rivers, bays and estuaries could entrain juvenile fish.

"We take this issue very seriously and, if necessary, intend to vigorously pursue our legal options," said John Innes, board member of the North Coast Fishing Association. "We are not opposed to renewable energy, we only want to make sure we know what the impacts will be to fish and other marine life before we sign off on these projects. Considering that wave energy is in its infancy, it is extremely important to have proper controls and regulations in place to prevent non-recoverable detrimental effects on our ocean environment."
If you are concerned, its better late then never to get involved.