Friday, April 13, 2007

WA State Technology Summit: Tidal Power

I attended the Washington State Technology Summit yesterday which is put on by the Washington Technology Center. I have been to several of these summits, last year held on the Microsoft campus and this year at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center. I would love to see one here at the Tacoma Convention Center but I digress.

Of the many impressions I was left with, I wanted to share one immediately. There is a major wave of alternative energy approaching, and I am nearly being literal. I sat in on the breakout session "Wave of the Future: Energy and Tides" and found the enthusiasm and interest startling. Two years ago, forums on alternative energy were also filled with energy products of the future: wind, solar, biofuel, hydrogen cells and tidal. But they were not always filled with large numbers of people in attendance or stories of economic feasibility. I am generalizing from my personal experiences so feel free to provide your own. At this conference, both sessions on alternative energy were packed to overflowing.

Locally, our former superintendent of Tacoma Power now General Manager of The Snohomish County Public Utility District, Steve Klein, was there. As was Chris Campbell, National Director, Ocean Renewable Energy Group, Jeff Morris of the WTC and Alla Weinstein, director of Finavera Renewables (merged with AquaEnergy) and General Manager of FVR Ocean Energy.

Alla stated that the funding for alternative and wave energy, in particular venture funding, was happening outside the United States. Europe was prominent in her examples, so much so that even though she is from the US, in 2005 Alla became the first President of the European Ocean Energy Association. So why was a business person operating outside of where the funding was? She and her company are here because the Pacific Northwest is where the resources are located. From Northern California to British Columbia there is a huge potential for non-intrusive Megawatt production.

And though the venture funding may be lagging, the governmental investment in alternative energy in the NW and the Puget Sound is huge. I am looking for information supporting a work force need for Energy Systems Engineers and was provided a staggering number of dollars being allocated for future projects. I will refrain from remembering the figure incorrectly and will post the number after confirmation, but I was impressed.

Even with the regulations and permitting process, (that help protect our resources), we are poised to be a world center for alternative energy.

So how about Tacoma?

In 2005 the Tacoma Narrows was part of a $350,000 EPRI project to evaluate tidal power feasibility and technology. Five months ago The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)'s Tidal Energy Permits page listed 38 pending applications for projects in Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Washington. FERC has also issued preliminary permit for a tidal project in the Tacoma Narrows of Washington's Puget Sound. In addition, a wave energy project was proposed for Makah Bay in Washington.

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