Sunday, April 5, 2009

NJ offshore wind energy's new gust of intrigue

There's an intriguing new development likely to intrude into the discussion today when Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opens an all-day session in Atlantic City on the nation's offshore energy prospects (Interior Secretary to discuss NJ's offshore energy)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Saturday that an unexpected turf battle has sprung up in the coastal waters off New Jersey where three wind energy companies thought they had sewed up development rights.

Reporter Sandy Bauers explains:

"Last fall, the BPU selected three wind developers - Bluewater Wind, Garden State offshore Energy (a joint venture of Deepwater Wind and PSEG), and Fishermen's Energy, a cooperative of commercial fishermen looking at new ways to harvest from the sea.

"About the same time, the governor upped the ante for the technology, setting a goal in his energy master plan of 1,000 megawatts of wind - about the amount the three proposals would generate - by 2012 and triple that by 2020. The only place to meet that, all agree, is offshore.

"The main obstacle at that point was that the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), which has the authority to regulate offshore wind, did not have a system in place to issue permits. It was being worked on.

"So the developers waited.

"Meanwhile, Burton Hamner of Seattle, president of Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co.,  zigged where others had zagged.

"He filed seven proposals for offshore wave farms with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which under different legislation was given authority over "hydrokinetic" projects. As in tides, currents - and waves.

"In New Jersey, what got everyone's attention and provoked the strong reaction was that the area Hamner picked engulfed the area proposed for two of the wind farms and was near to that proposed for the third.

"Odder still, most scientists have dismissed the viability of Jersey wave energy, which typically uses buoys and turbines to extract energy from the up and down motion of the waves."

So what's Hamner up to? 

Is he really interested in developing his own alternative energy projects off the Jersey shore?

Or is he just a smart businessman who recognized an opportunity to stake a claim to valuable territory hoping the wind developers, under pressure to get projects up and working, would be willing to cut him into their deals or buy him out?

Or is something even more Machiavellian at work?  

Could Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co be in cahoots with Big Oil, seeking to stall wind energy development while petroleum lobbyists press Congress and the Obama Administration for approval to drill in national waters off the east coast?  

There's nothing in Hamner's resume to suggest the latter. If his company's website bio can be believed, he's more inclined to stroll down the leafy green side of the energy street.  

A former environmental planner for the Washington Department of Ecology, Hamner produces the website, Cleaner Production, which provides information on developing green and sustainable business internationally.  He serves as chair of the Renewable Energy Committee of the Marine Technology Society and was appointed in early 2008 as an international advisor to the New Zealand Marine Energy Deployment Fund.

It appears that we'll just have to wait and watch as this story plays out.  Starting today in Atlantic City.

It should be interesting.
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