PG&E Pulls Wave Energy Project in NorthCal

| About: PG&E Corporation (PCG)

By Ucilia Wang

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (NYSE:PCG) has decided not to pursue a wave energy project off the Mendocino County Coast after deciding that the project location would pose too many challenges.

The utility had considered building a pilot project off the coast of the city of Fort Bragg, but it told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June that the project was a no go, reported Green Inc. today. The pilot project could have led to a 40-megawatt commercial wave energy farm.

I caught up with Jana Morris, a spokeswoman for PG&E, to find out why. It turned out, the harbor around where the utility wanted to run the pilot project was too small and difficult to access, Morris said.

The U.S. Coast Guard had warned the utility that the Noyo Harbor can treacherous to deal with. The bluffs surrounding the harbor also would pose obstacles for the utility to access the harbor with the crane equipment, Morris said.

PG&E had a preliminary permit to do a feasibility and economic study for the Mendocino project. It would have needed additional regulatory approval to construct the pilot project.

The utility is continuing with another wave energy project off the Humboldt County coast. PG&E also has a preliminary permit from FERC to do a feasibility study there. It plans to apply for what's called a "draft pilot license" from FERC in Spring 2010 in order to set up a 5-megawatt pilot project, Morris said.

To minimize public opposition, PG&E is talking to local public officials, fishermen and environmental groups in Humboldt County, she added.

The decision to nix the Mendocino wave energy project reflected the difficulties of harnessing the power of the ocean to generate electricity. Many companies certainly are trying, but results have been mixed. The industry overall is still largely in the technology development phases.

The utility faced a setback last year when the California Public Utilities Commission refused to approve a wave energy contract between PG&E and Finavera Renewables last October.

The commission said at the time the technology was unproven and the power purchase prices were too high.