Seattle company looks at Hawaii for wave power


POSTED: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Seattle-based company is seeking a permit from federal regulators to study the generation of ocean wave electricity at seven sites, including off the coast of Molokai in Hawaii.

Grays Harbor Ocean Energy LLC filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct projects at seven sites - off the shores of San Francisco and Ventura, Calif.; Penguin Bank in Hawaii; Cape Islands, Mass.; Block Island, R.I.; the Hamptons in New York; and Atlantic City, N.J.

Penguin Bank, a submerged volcano west of Molokai measuring about 20 miles long, 10 miles wide and less than 200 feet deep, was the only site in Hawaii that met all eight of the company's criteria.

The company Web site described the bank as “;a relatively barren habitat compared to shallower waters nearby”; with strong tidal currents at the edges of the bank.

It is also a part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which the company said it is aware could pose challenges.

We're very excited about the possibility of doing this in Hawaii,”; said president Burton Hamner. “;We're going to come to Hawaii and listen to everybody and we hope that we can find partnerships.”;

The company currently has a demonstration project at Grays Harbor in Washington state, for which it has a preliminary permit that was granted in July 2008.

The preliminary permit allows the company to conduct feasibility studies, but also gives it exclusive rights to the project later.

The $400 million to $600 million wind power project in Hawaii is envisioned to include 100 offshore platforms topped with wind turbines and wave energy converters built into each leg, with the potential to generate more than 1,000 mega-watts of power.

Karen Holt, executive director of the Molokai Community Service Council, said she was aware of the application, but that the company has not approached anyone on Molokai as far as she knows.

Some preliminary community concerns would include interference with shipping lanes and the annual Molokai canoe race. Since Penguin Bank is a very rich fishing area, there could also be community concerns about possible harm to marine life.

She said that in general, Molokai residents support the development of alternative energy, but that there wasn't enough information about this project to make any predictions at this point.

Among the criteria used to identify the sites were whether the state was a high energy cost market, had significant incentives for renewable power generation, at least 100 square miles of area to develop, and a suitable harbor.

In its application, filed in November, Hamner said the company intends to apply nearly identical projects at several sites to achieve significant economies of scale.

Hamner said the project would be developed in close partnership with local communities in conformance with local, state and federal planning and regulatory authorities.

Together, the seven sites should be able to generate up to 7,700 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power about 2 million homes.