Wave power development hits some rocks

PORTUGAL - Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the world’s furthest-along wave power project, off the coast of Portugal, was out of the water and in financial trouble.

The project, a farm of floating, electricity-generating sea snakes, is a casualty of the economic crisis. Its majority owner, the Australian firm Babcock & Brown, is in bankruptcy proceedings. The wave devices are on shore for repairs and may not be relaunched until a new partner acquires the Babcock & Brown stake.

“At the present time we are still in confidential discussions with a potential replacement for B&B as the other shareholder in the Portugal project,” said Phil Metcalf, the chief executive of Pelamis Wave Power, which supplies the sea-snake devices and is also the Portugal project’s minority owner, in an e-mail message.

He declined to discuss the topic further, and pointed to a statement on the company’s Web site.

“The Pelamis/Babcock relationship is an excellent analogy for where we are as an industry,” said Sean O’Neill, the president of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, in an e-mail message.

“Most companies are in the demonstration/pilot phase so we’ll be seeing some fits and starts.”

Some wave power developers are pulling back on plans in the United States. “Energy developers have given up on about a third of the wave power projects they proposed along the West Coast,” reported Northern California Public Broadcasting earlier this month. Some withdrew their permit applications from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Others had their applications rejected.

Two of the withdrawn permits (and one license) belonged to Finavera, a Canadian company whose wave-power device sank off of the coast of Oregon in 2007. Finavera subsequently decided to focus more on wind power.

Roger Bedard of the Electric Power Research Institute wrote in an e-mail message that the pullback on permits, far from being dire, represented an inevitable weeding-out of the applicant pool. It is easy to file for a preliminary permit because there is no filing fee, he noted, and some companies filed “without much of a chance or the know-how to develop a project.”

“The good news,” Mr. Bedard continued, “is that the wave energy developers who are well financed and experienced, like PG&E here in California and Ocean Power Technology in Oregon, are moving forward.”

In Europe, Mr. Metcalf of Pelamis Wave Power also said work was progressing on a next-generation wave device, “which we have designed to be much more capable, and will be up and running in Orkney next year.”


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