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Ucluelet considered one of few sites
for wave energy in province

Two companies have investigative permits

Gillian Riddell, Westerly News, May 15, 2008

Another company interested in harnessing the energy in the waves that undulate off Ucluelet has applied for a permit to determine the area’s exact potential.

Global Energy Horizons recently applied for an investigative permit for the offshore area from the George Fraser Islands in the south to the offshore area just north of Big Beach. The proposed area borders the area where another energy company, Finavera Renewables, currently holds an investigative use permit.

“When you look around the world at potential sites the west coast of North America is extremely attractive,” said David King, Executive Director of Global Energy Horizons.

King added that Ucluelet is an ideal spot because it meets many of the criteria necessary for a wave energy project. The wave potential is strong and it is close to BC Hydro’s grid which makes it one of the few possible sites on all of B.C.’s coast.

The company is looking at installing a new form of wave technology off Ucluelet’s coast that uses the energy from waves to pump seawater through a conventional hydro generating unit on land.

The water could then be desalinated for drinking or other purposes, or returned to the ocean.

King said since the equipment does not sit on the surface of the ocean, the project would have a small footprint both environmentally and visually.

Global Energy Horizons is working with the District of Ucluelet and the Ucluelet First Nation to determine if the project would be a good fit with the community.

If the project were to go ahead, King said they would look to partner with Ucluelet and the First Nation to sell the power to BC Hydro.

But first, the company needs to determine what the cost of producing electricity through wave energy would be which can only be done by placing the units in the ocean, said King.

“It is a brand new technology,” said King.

The B.C. government estimates more than 6,000 megawatts of potential wave energy have been identified in the province however, there are currently no wave energy projects producing electricity in B.C.

Wave energy is considered a “clean” source of electricity as it does not produce greenhouse gases. In 2007, the B.C. government declared that all new energy projects would have to have zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, BC Hydro imports approximately 10-15 percent of the province’s electricity needs from areas such as Alberta and the U.S. As much of this electricity comes from natural gas or coal-fired generating plants, the province wants to ensure that by 2016, British Columbia has enough clean electricity within the province to meet the demand.

One way to do this is by purchasing electricity from independent power producers who investigate, develop and operate energy projects that sell the power to BC Hydro under Electricity Purchase Agreements that are signed for anywhere up to 40 years.

In 2006, the average price BC Hydro paid for independent power sources was between $70-$74 a megawatt hour.

Wave energy off Ucluelet could be a valuable source of power to BC Hydro as the constant waves during winter storm season could produce electricity during the time of year when demand is highest and traditionally when BC Hydro is importing to meet demand

Dianne St. Jacques, mayor of Ucluelet, met with Global Energy horizons in February this year.

“We are working together to see how we can help,” said St. Jacques who sees a lot of potential for wave power to benefit Ucluelet.

“If we could supply ourselves (with electricity) it would be great,” said St. Jacques adding that the wave energy technology would also be a draw for tourists.

“We think it’s a nice fit for Ucluelet,” said King. “I think we could actually make it the wave capital of B.C. and use it as the model for others.”

Finavera Renewables has had an investigative permit extending further offshore than Global Energy Horizons north of Big Beach for almost a year.

The initial size of Finavera’s project would be quite small at 2-5 megawatts, or approximately enough energy to power 2,000 homes, with plans to increase it to 100 megawatts.

Company spokesperson Myke Clark said Finavera is still doing feasibility studies for wave energy in that area and is also looking at the potential of power sales.

The company has also met with the District of Ucluelet as well as the Ucluelet First Nation.

“We are still committed to developing this project as the wave resource is excellent and there appears to be good support in the area,” said Clark.

© Westerly News 2008