Sierra Club Bay Chapter
Energy Sub-Committee Update-June 24, 2003
* Minutes from last meeting
* New Hydrogen and Renewable Energy Commission
* Solar Pilot Status
* Nomination of Vice Chairman
* Volunteer Opportunities
* Agenda for June 26 meeting
* Draft position on SF Tidal Pilot Project
* Draft Tidal Questions for SFE
May Meeting Minutes
The main topic of last month's meeting was ocean energy, focusing
specifically on San Francisco's proposed 1 MW tidal power plant. The status
of East Alameda power plants and the gas turbines offered to SF by Williams
were also discussed. Finally, it was agreed that regular meetings would be
scheduled for the 4th Wednesday of the month at Sierra Club Headquarters in
Peter O'Donnell, San Francisco's leading tidal energy advocate, presented
the city's plan to build a 1 MW tidal power plant. Unfortunately, the lack
of video support made it difficult to convey the main attributes of the
Hyrdo Venturi (HV) system that is preferred by the City's department of
The advantages promised include:
* Minimal impacts on marine life or sedimentation in the bay,
* Stable, predicable power output,
* No impact of shipping traffic,
* No moving parts under water,
* Limited footprint on the land,
* Scalable design allows power increase if concept is proven,
and removal if unforeseen impacts occur.
Some interesting points were mentioned, including:
* SFE estimates the HV system will produce power for $.05/kwh,
* The system will store compressed air during peak tidal flows
so that the plant will be able to produce full output 24/7,
* The city's budget for the project is ½ person and some
* The EIR for the project will be for a 1MW plant only; it
will not address the impact of larger systems that could provide a
significant portion of the city's power supply,
* He anticipates system growth in 10-20 MW steps, with a
preliminary goal of 100 MW within a couple of decades,
* HydroVenturi will pay for the pilot plant ($4 Million) and
possibly the EIR. At this time, the company principals are the primary
* Mr. O'Donnell has no financial interest in HV,
* Long-term ownership of the plant is not known. At least one
power generator has offered to buy it after one year of operation,
* The configuration of the plant is currently a cube, 90'wide
x 30' high x 45' long,
* The most promising location is within a couple thousand feet
of the Golden Gate Bridge, about 30' deep,
* A project milestone chart is being created by SFE,
* Mr. O'Donnell believes FERC will be the lead permitting
* 17 commenting agencies will be involved in the permitting
* HV's 150 kw demonstration plant in England has had stable
electrical output for "the last couple of weeks"
Mr. O'Donnell indicated that SFE is not locked into HV as the contractor for
this project, and that the RFP to be issued this Fall will not pose a
barrier to other companies. However, his description of the HV system as
"third generation technology" and the fact that all presentations by the SFE
have used the HV system to describe the project, make it clear that this is
the preferred system.
Editorial Comment: This was an optimistic presentation by the champion of
tidal energy for SF, but other renewable energy advocates in the city do not
support the project. Questions about the project, as well as a draft Sierra
Club position are given at the end of this newsletter.
East Alameda power plants
Two massive (1100 MW) natural gas fired power plants have been proposed for
Eastern Alameda County. Each violates Measure D, the Sierra Club sponsored
open space initiative passed by Alameda County voters in 2000. The two
plants are in different stages of the licensing process. Calpine's East
Altamont Energy Center, proposed for the far northeastern corner of Alameda
County, has been given preliminary approval by a two-member panel of the
California Energy Commission (CEC). The full CEC hearing and vote has just
been postponed but is expected to be rescheduled for the near future.
The second plant, Florida Power and Light's Tesla Energy Facility, would be
sited south of I-580, a few miles from the Altamont Speedway. This plant is
at an earlier stage of the licensing process. The CEC staff has released a
final staff assessment, which recommends approval, but public hearings
before the two-member CEC panel have not yet been scheduled. The hearings
were thought to be starting soon, but lack of hearing officers has caused a
delay. No formal hearing schedule has been released, but the hearings are
likely to begin in August with a decision made in September.
The two power plants violate the voter-approved initiative because they are
located outside the urban growth boundary on land reserved for agriculture
and open space. They are too large to fall under the infrastructure
exemption of Measure D, which allows public utilities outside the UGB only
to serve permitted growth in eastern Alameda County. Either one of these
plants is ten times larger than needed to serve projected growth in east
county; together they dwarf any reasonable interpretation of need.
Nevertheless, Alameda County has testified that the power is needed, and the
Energy Commission has deferred to the county's position.
The Sierra Club opposes both plants and has allied itself with citizen
intervenor, Bob Sarvey, who is trying valiantly to stop the plants. Club
representatives will testify at the Tesla hearings and will try to mobilize
members and other citizens to influence the Energy Commission to deny the
required licensing approvals for both facilities.
Williams Turbines for SF
As a result of a November 2002 legal settlement with Williams Energy, one of
the power companies accused of price gouging Californians during the
2000-2001 energy crisis, San Francisco will soon begin constructing four
small, publicly owned power plants within the city. These plants will be
powered by natural gas-fired turbines supplied for free by Williams, which
agreed to award San Francisco with:
(1) four LM6000 electric-generation
(2) a $13.7mm settlement payment - paid in varying annual installments through 2010 and used to cover ongoing maintenance costs. As part of the broader legal settlement, the state of California has dropped all legal claims on the alleged price gouging by Williams.
The four turbines could generate a combined 180 MW once the smaller "peaker" plants are fully developed and connected to transmission and natural gas-supply lines, enough energy to replace the power lost from the proposed shut-down of the 165 MW Hunters Point plant. Each Williams turbine generates 16 times less than the amount of ozone-creating pollutants produced by the Hunters Point power plant and 24 times less than the plant at Potrero Hill. Unlike the Hunters Point and Potrero facilities, the smaller, turbine-based plants can be turned on and off with a flick of a switch to match increased demand or compensate for a loss of power from another source. The construction of the new power plants will likely be funded by a ten-year $200mm revenue bond that will be floated in the summer of 2004 by the CA Department of Water Resources.
To receive the turbines from Williams, the city must decide on the location of the plants by Dec 31, 2003. Currently the siteing process is spearheaded by the Power Plant Development group within the SFPUC. This group plans to:
(1) complete siteing by the end of summer,
(2) focus on the permitting process post preliminary siteing,
(3) prepare a bond offering schedule by fall 2003, and
(4) file with the state energy commission by early December 2003. The SF Energy Sub-Committee is closely monitoring both the siteing/permitting process and the resulting environmental impact, with the hope of endorsing this measure later this year.
SF Hydrogen and Renewable Energy (HRE) Committee
June 3rd was the inaugural meeting of this new Sub-commision of the city's Commision on the Environment. Their charter is to "work towards a plan for 100% renewable energy in less than 25 years...focusing on the potential role of Hydrogen, tidal power, and other innovative ideas". For now, they will be meeting bi-monthly. This first meeting provided information on both Hydrogen and Tidal power .
The San Francisco Department of Environment (SFE) has drafted a "Hydrogen Roadmap" which sets forth long and short term steps towards making San Francisco a Hydrogen Economy. The roadmap is still under development and is not yet available for review, but many specific goals were mentioned:
* Investigate Fuel cell fleet vehicles and shore power for cruise ships,
* Build two hydrogen fueling stations in SF within two years,
* Secure a portion of the $1.2 Billion in DOE funds allocated for hydrogen infrastructure development (SFE has applied for two projects)
* Educate the public about the use of hydrogen as an energy storage media
The presentation by the SFE was very optimistic. A presentation was scheduled to address the critical safety issues inherent in handling hydrogen, but the speaker was unable to attend. Still, it was promising that the HRE commission is addressing this potential roadblock from the onset of the project.
Peter O'Donnell gave a presentation very similar to the one he gave us, except that he was able to show videos of the Hydroventuri (HV) system. A couple of new points:
* The RFP for the 1 MW pilot plant is due in September or October,
* Two new tidal companies want to respond to the RFP,
* Hydroventuri is still working with the government of Iceland to develop a site there before one is installed in the SF Bay. It will not be the same hardware configuration however.
* There are two type of plankton, the most important of which lives near the surface of the ocean, well above the HV power module.
* UC Berkley has a tidal tank for test proposes and Stanford is investigating the global effects if tidal power systems were widely used.
Committee Vice- Chair nomination
This will be a busy year for the Energy sub-committee. Naveen Choudary has displayed tremendous enthusiasm, effort, and ability in his first few months with the committee and has volunteered to give even more time as the Vice-Chairman. Naveen will be nominated at the next meeting for the committee's consideration. There will be enough work for a Secretary if anybody is interested contributing more to the group.
SF Solar Pilot Project Status
It appears that the project will not be considered by the Board of Supervisors for at least a month . Tom Amiano's office is trying to find funding for a staff position first.
LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Comoitee, has been covering very interesting topics lately, including tidal power, solar energy, and community aggregation. The next meeting, July 25, will address wind power and conservation. There are opportunities for public comment and this would be a good venue for getting our message out. If you can occasionally attend a meeting, typically mid-day on Fridays, please let me know.
The HRE committee could use a similar representative from our group.
State legislation on topics like Exit Fees, Renewable Portfolio Standards, and Community Aggregation will have a dramatic effect on Bay Area energy supply and demand. We could use a person familiar with state politics or the energy industry in general to keep track of relevant happenings in Sacramento.
We still need help in the following areas:
* Shutdown Hunter's Point Power Plant
* Stop Potrero Power Plant Expansion
* Allocation of energy conservation funds
* Public power feasibility studies
* Jefferson-Martin transmission line
* Solar Bond measure for Oakland
* Wind/solar project for Port of Oakland
Thursday, June 26, 7 - 9 pm, Yosemite Room, Sierra Club National Headquarters, 85 Second St., San Francisco (two blocks from the Montgomery BART station).
* Presentation of SF Electricity Resource Plan and group discussion
* Status of Prop. B&H Bonds
* Discussion of draft Sierra Club position of Tidal Pilot
* Nomination of Committee Vice-Chairman
* Committee Voting Requirements
This meeting will feature a presentation on electricity supply and demand in San Francisco. Fred Schwartz of the SF Public Utilities Commission will discuss the city's plan to shut down old plants like Hunters Point and Potrero Hill and replace them with new gas turbines, increased efficiency, and increased use of renewables. The plan is available at www.sfgov/sfenvironment/ .
Eric Bowen, Naveen Choudary, and Dick Schneider contributed to this issue.
Draft Energy Sub-Committee Position on Tidal Power Pilot
Free flow tidal technology is not a commercially proven technology. Its development will likely parallel that of wind energy, with successes and failures. The city needs to ensure the company selected for the pilot plant and its technology are solid, to minimize the possibility that taxpayers will pay for the remediation of a failed experiment. There are definite reasons to be cautious of the HV system in particular:
1. A study of Tidal Energy by Hydro Tasmania dated December 2001 did not mention HV as an option,
2. A similar study for BC Hyrdo, draft copy dated June 7, 2002, rated the HV technology least mature of the group, "2" on a scale of 10. HV was judged best of the five technologies evaluated, ranking high in all categories except maturity, but I'd question how positive attributes like cost efficiency and environmental impact were evaluated. The report states in the summary of the HV system that "It may be the best method for extracting energy from very high velocity tidal streams where the current speed is too high to deploy or maintain other turbine systems. At this stage, insufficient manufacturer information is available to allow a defendable technical evaluation of this technology".
3. The system has only been producing stable electrical power for the "last couple of weeks" (from May 28, 2003 meeting).
4. The basic configuration of the system is not finalized. At the LAFCO meeting February 28, 2003, the 1MW pilot plant for SF was described as a system of 8' diameter cylinders. On May 28, the system was described as a 90' wide x 30' tall x 45' long cube. At the first meeting, the system was described as having a secondary water circuit, by May this was eliminated.
We should not ignore the possibility that the HV technology is truly new and revolutionary, which would explain most of the comments above. However, it is clearly questionable enough that the SFE should not be promoting it as the best choice. It is imperative that the RFP for the 1MW pilot be reviewed to ensure it does not favor HV over other candidates with more mature technologies. The HV system proposed may be the only type of tidal system with any chance of deployment in the SF Bay, but that does not mean it should be given preference at this stage of the competition.
Tidal power is an exciting new renewable energy option for the Bay Area, particularly because it promises predictable power output and can meet base load requirements in the case of a HV system with air storage. Renewable energy advocates understand that no power source is environmentally benign and that new technologies involve risk. However, as activists, we have a responsibility to ensure the environmental rewards exceed the environmental, social, and financial risks.
Free flow tidal technology is not a commercially proven technology. Its development will likely parallel that of wind energy, with successes and failures. The city needs to ensure the company selected for the pilot plant and its technology are solid, to minimize the possibility that taxpayers will pay for the remediation of a failed experiment
The San Francisco Bay is not, and should not be an engineering laboratory. Any system considered for deployment in the bay should have data available to prove is works at the flow rates expected in the bay AND in the actual configuration to be deployed. This data should be subject to public scrutiny. Key environmental issues should be fully evaluated even before the permitting process begins. For example, the effects of rapid pressure changes on plankton and small fish can be tested in a university lab and changes in sedimentation can be modeled for a given amount of energy extraction. This type of information must be disseminated before groups like the Sierra Club can take a position on any particular installation.
Many activists in the Sierra Club are rightfully excited about the prospect of clean tidal energy powering San Francisco, but we recognize that the promise of tidal energy will not shut down Hunter's point. Until verifiable operational and environmental data are presented for specific tidal energy projects, we need to keep focused on proven near-term solutions like conservation, implementation of Wind and Solar projects under Props. B and H, and ensuring the shutdown of Hunter's Point power plant.
Questions for the Energy Comittee:
* Should we support the pilot as a test bed, regardless of whether a full scale system seems feasible?
* Should we push to have the EIR evaluate a reasonable sized system, 10-100 MW for example?
* Should we work directly with HV to evaluate their system or work through the SFE?
Proposed Questions for SFE and/or HV:
1. Why isn't HV developing their system in a "simple" free-flow river application before tackling the political and technical challenges of the SF Bay?
2. Will the pilot plant have a secondary water circuit?
3. The air turbines are efficient over what range of differential pressure?
4. At the May 28 meeting, it was mentioned that there is no pressure change through the venturi. This seems to be a mistake, considering the basic physical principles being harnessed. If so, what is the pressure drop through the venturi?
5. What percentage of energy is taken from the tidal flow stream by 10, 100, and 1,000 MW systems.?
6. Who bears the financial risk for the pilot?
7. When will the following data be available, relative to placing hardware in the bay:
7.1. Data from the Grimsby test-bed showing performance (electrical output or pressure head and air-flow rates) as a function of water speed.
7.2. Schematics and descriptions of both the Grimsby plant and the proposed unit for SF to show the systems are technically similar.
7.3. Description of how the individual power modules would be linked to generate more power.
7.4. Scaled drawings of the underwater equipment for 1 MW system.
7.5. Physical layout and footprint of on-shore equipment for 1, 10, 100, 1,000MW systems
7.6. Computer model results showning sedimentation increases in the bay as a function of tidal energy removed.
7.7. How fish and plankton are affected by pressure drops at the rates and magnitudes being considered for the HV power modules.