June 24, 2011 - what's in the near future for hydrokinetic energy

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hydrokinetic projects produce electricity from moving water like tides, waves, ocean currents, or rivers.  This week I've looked at some of the 70 preliminary permits for hydrokinetic projects issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; today, I'll expand that look to cover the 147 more preliminary permit applications pending before FERC. Interestingly, these pending applications focus nearly exclusively on inland riverine projects, which may give some insight into the near-term future of hydrokinetic energy projects in the U.S.

Looking at the projects for which permits have already been issued, half are for inland projects on rivers, mostly on the lower Mississippi River system below Cairo, Illinois.   The list of pending projects is skewed even more heavily toward inland sites, with 145 out of 147 pending applications being for inland projects, and accounting for well over 99.9% of the total 17,352.55 MW of capacity proposed in these applications.

140 of the pending hydrokinetic preliminary permits are clustered densely along the lower Mississippi system.  These sites claim a total potential capacity of over 17 GW -- a significant amount of power.  Two companies have filed for the bulk of these preliminary permits: Free Flow Power, which has 24 active permits for sites on the Mississippi and which has filed for 105 more permits; and Northland Power Mississippi River, which has applied for preliminary permits at 40 Mississippi River sites.  These two players will have to battle before FERC to resolve their 28 permit applications seeking competing claims to the same site.

Rounding out the pending applications for preliminary permits for inland projects are two on the Niagara River in New York between Lakes Erie and Ontario, and one on the Cohansey River in New Jersey.

The remaining 2 pending permits are for tidal projects in the northeast quadrant of the country: the 3 MW Maurice River Tidal Energy Project in New Jersey, and the 8 MW Muskeget Channel Tidal project between the town of Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

FERC's preliminary permit process for hydrokinetic projects applies to a variety of technologies, including marine waves, currents, and tides, as well as flowing water in rivers.  The distribution of interest in preliminary permits suggests that large river systems like the Mississippi hold great potential for the commercial development of hydrokinetic energy.  Will inland hydrokinetic technology -- arguably the direct descendant of traditional hydroelectricity -- continue to draw more interest than marine hydrokinetic power?

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