Archive for the ‘Coastlines’ Category

Wave-Energy Generation: The Beginning

A lot of energy in every wave. Photo by David Spinks, some rights reserved.

Many words are written on developments in the wind and solar energy industries day in and day out, but this week another alternative energy source is making waves. The New York Times reported Monday that the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the country will be launched in October. The New Jersey-based company, Ocean Power Technologies, is sending a barge to carry a 260-ton generator to its anchorage off the central coast of Oregon.

The Pacific coastline from Northern California through Washington State is particularly well-suited for wave-energy generation due to consistent swell from never-ending northern Pacific winds. The weather, though, presents a problem of its own: stormy seas in the winter. Just 15 years ago, in fact, one of the first test-buoy generators sank shortly after it was launched off the Oregon coast.

Wave-energy technology is so new that OPT engineers and observers do not know what exactly to expect. The buoy has an onboard computer that collects input from ‘wave riders’ floating farther out in the ocean to adapt the generator to each incoming wave, as well as to gather data to help engineers understand the tiny differences between waves. While the OPT buoy floats on the surface, there are other ways to generate electricity from waves – other concepts have put generators on the ocean floor or rising vertically through the surface.

The near future of energy development could also hinge on the OPT buoy’s success. The federal permit issued last month approved up to 10 generators, which would produce enough energy to power 1,000 homes, but more important perhaps is the potential for future investment. Big power companies have mostly stood on the sidelines while smaller companies worked on wave energy generation, so Ocean Power Technologies has relied on grant money from public and private sources. If OPT proves the concept, private investment could flow into the industry, not just in the Pacific Northwest but in other spots with long fetch for ocean swell like parts of the coast of Western Europe and South America.

Cape Wind Gets FAA Approval, Again.

The Cape Wind turbines won’t be this close. Photo by Morten A. Mitchell Larød, some rights reserved.

The FAA announced Wednesday that the 130-turbine Cape Wind project off the Massachusetts coast posed no danger to air travel. The FAA’s approval means that Cape Wind is fully permitted, with federal and state approval, a commercial lease and construction and operations plans, and power purchase agreements with utilities in Massachusetts – the only offshore wind farm so close to construction. Massachusetts, then, is about to add to its fast-growing use of renewables.

The approval does not come without controversy, however. Republican lawmakers want to investigate the possibility that the Obama administration put pressure on the agency to approve the project despite safety concerns. Even with that threat looming, the project is the subject of numerous legal challenges.

Last year, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound challenged the FAA’s previous approval of the project, and the DC Circuit overturned that approval, ordering the agency to review its findings. Cape Wind must also set aside $15 million to address any issues with the radar systems used to locate aircraft in the area, but because the turbines, at 440 feet, are below a 500-foot threshold, the FAA does not expect them to obstruct pilots. Boston.com has the story here.

For those of us who might have been following this story since the George W. Bush administration, this storyline might sound familiar. That’s because this is actually the FAA’s fourth no-hazard determination, an approval that must be reviewed if construction does not begin within 18 months. Maybe the fourth time is the charm on the high seas of Nantucket Sound.

The Most Beautiful Beaches in the World Are in Danger!

Photo by fmschmitt. Some rights reserved.

Troubling news for the U.S. tourism industry arrived this week in the form of a new report filed by the United States Geological Survey on the Historical Shoreline Change in the Hawaiian Islands. The report monitors shoreline changes on Kauai, Oahu, and Maui, Hawaii’s three most densely populated islands, over the last century. In this time,  9% (about 14 miles) of the coastline of these islands has disappeared, and 70% of their beaches show signs of retreat. Maui is showing the highest rate of decay, with 81% of its beaches showing signs of erosions.  The study reports varying rates of erosion depending on the island and the beach; the range runs the gamut from a few inches per year up to a few feet per year, depending on a multitude of factors including degree of tourism in the area, vulnerability to coastal storms, and the ever-increasing rise of sea level.

“The inevitable fate of the Hawaiian Islands millions of years into the future is seen to the northwest in the spires of French Frigate Shoals and the remnants of other once mighty islands, ancestors of today’s Hawaii, but now sunken beneath the sea through the forces of waves, rivers, and the slow subsidence of the seafloor,” explained USGS Director Marcia McNutt in an agency press release.

So what’s the solution? Obviously the findings of this report hold a great significance to the future of the Hawaiian way of life, both the indigenous Polynesian culture and the booming tourism industry of the islands. The common practice of re-building beaches with imported sand is also dicey in the Hawaiian islands as, because of its geographical remoteness, imported sand is 10 times more expensive than the global average. William J. Aila Jr., Chairperson of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources recommends, above all else, moving commercial construction and infrastructure away from the beaches and towards the mainland. “This will vastly improve upon public safety and will ensure that Hawaii’s beautiful beaches will be protected from inappropriate shoreline development.”

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