Morro Bay power plant owner, second company compete for wave energy project

nwilson@thetribunenews.comFebruary 22, 2014 

The owner of the Morro Bay power plant site has formally applied with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to create an offshore wave park to generate electricity.

A Dynegy official visited the city this week to meet with an executive from GWave, a wave energy technology firm, as well as local leaders and stakeholders about its plan.

Houston-based Dynegy closed the power plant this month, ending its 50-year run, and filed a preliminary permit application Feb. 6 with FERC in hopes of securing future priority for a licensed project. The firm envisions connecting the wave park through transmission lines to the old power plant’s electrical switchyard.

Approval of the application would launch a $500,000 study to test wave energy technology, examine the best ocean locations, and examine marine impacts. A full-scale project would require more than 20 licenses and permits.

Dynegy isn’t the only firm seeking to build a wave farm off the coast of Morro Bay. Archon Energy 1 Inc. of Tampa, Fla., in November filed a preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a wave farm. Archon is proposing a $1 million study and has suggested using Morro Bay, Cayucos or Baywood substations as interconnection points for a 100- to 500-megawatt project.

“Priority for this area is sought to allow (Archon) to conduct feasibility studies and evaluate the appropriate project scale” based on factors including wave power density, environmental impacts and commercial viability, the Archon application states.

The Dynegy application envisions transferring Pacific Ocean wave energy through transmission lines to the switchyard at the retired Morro Bay Power Plant. Dynegy already has some company transmission lines in place offshore from the old power plant operation that could be used.

“We want a project that’s compatible with the community,” said Alan Padgett, Dynegy’s vice president of asset management. “We’ve been meeting with Morro Bay city officials, fishermen, environmentalists. This is a renewable energy project that we think has great possibility here.”

Padgett said Dynegy’s proposed project would provide about 650 megawatts of energy, cost more than $1 billion to build, create jobs for local residents, and supply the city of Morro Bay with an estimated $1 million in annual revenue. Based on an agreement that would have to be worked out, revenue could come from active use of the city’s tidelands area for the transmission lines and extra harbor patrol.

In the next few months, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide which application will move forward. The companies are allowed to protest each other’s submissions.

Dynegy has been in talks with GWave for about a year on the project. GWave is a limited liability corporation that formed in Delaware in March 2011 and then registered the following month in New Hampshire as a technology development company, according to documents on file with those states.

Robert Stoddard, GWave’s executive vice president, said this week’s meetings in Morro Bay helped his company and Dynegy gather information. They discussed which locations are more frequented by fishermen — and thus the ones to avoid — as well as environmental impacts. They hope to use information from some significant ocean studies in the area that Cal Poly has conducted.

Dynegy’s Padgett also received input on potential uses of the power plant site, given that much of the existing facility won’t be needed if a wave energy operation is built. Some suggested a visitors center.

“If we’re granted the preliminary permit, it would be about a two-year process of extensive study, including meetings with stakeholders, before we put our licensing package together,” Stoddard said.

Earlier this month, he said that a conservative estimate for when the project could be implemented is 2017, possibly 2016. The company is looking into two ocean sites — one about 3.62 square miles west of the power plant and another that’s nearly 7 square miles offshore from Point Estero near Cayucos.

Archon proposes researching a 30-square-mile project area that spans ocean areas from Los Osos to Cayucos.

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