T-S My Word on PG&E’s WaveConnect

Here. And below. (Remember, Humboldt Surfrider has two folks participating in the PG&E stakeholder group: the very competent Bill Lydgate and similarly smart Scott Willits!)

Why the harbor district, fishermen and labor want it in writing

Pat Higgins and Ronnie Pellegrini/For the Times-Standard

Posted: 02/24/2010 05:39:31 AM PST

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District took emergency action at its Feb. 11 meeting to form a Wave Energy Oversight Committee to assist fishermen and labor. Our objective is to get assurances in writing from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) regarding the specifics of wave energy development off our coast. While your recent article “Conflict over PG&E wave energy grows” (2/14/10) accurately portrayed our intended action, we would like to make it very clear why we think getting written assurance from PG&E is necessary to broaden community support.

We all recognize the need for clean energy development and we all want job creation, but the PG&E project will take up some of the most productive crab grounds in California and could conceivably bring no local longshoreman or stevedore jobs. Local crab fishermen need to have the wave energy project footprint and duration clearly defined. The crab fishery is one of the last healthy fisheries on the North Coast and the lost opportunity for use of crab grounds within the PG&E project is likely in the tens of thousands of dollars per acre per year. PG&E made a last-minute change from a five-year to a 10-year period of operation in their pending permit without consulting fishermen, and there is the prospect that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that has jurisdiction could allow operation for many decades.

PG&E has said it plans to ultimately build a larger project fartheroffshore in federal waters, where the wave energy is better. But leases in federal waters are controlled by the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which wants big bucks for them. FERC, on the other hand, controls permits in state waters out to 3 miles and does not charge for its permits. Will PG&E do the math and opt to remain in the rent free zone?

The numerous PG&E stakeholder and community meetings have not seriously discussed the framework of FERC jurisdiction and its accountability to local interests. This is the same agency that continues to relicense Klamath and Eel River dams, while acknowledging they are killing the salmon. A normal FERC permit process takes five years and the permit lasts 50 years. PG&E’s pilot project permit is streamlined to one year and FERC says it is waiving its normal guidelines. The problem is no one knows what that means, least of all FERC. PG&E is asking for a five- or 10-year permit, but FERC is notorious for issuing year to year power project license extensions almost indefinitely.

The Harbor District has port authority, so we naturally want to keep a vital labor force. While there used to be 180 men unloading ships, there are now only 18. Therefore, we must try to get a guarantee that at least some longshoremen and stevedores’ jobs will be created. PG&E is using millions of state and likely federal dollars, which makes some guarantees to local labor appropriate. Local longshoremen have already seen PG&E pass the buck for outside hiring, and neither they nor local fishermen want to see that happen again.

The PG&E spokesperson in last Sunday’s article said that “the utility can’t make explicit commitments.” In fact, there are standard business agreements for commercial ventures that infringe on fishing grounds, such as undersea telecommunications cable agreements. These have been applied in other areas of the California coast and could easily be amended to stipulate local port job guarantees. The buck must stop with PG&E.

PG&E’s claim of being “transparent” also rings hollow, since some of the hard questions fishermen submitted on cards at the PG&E public meeting weren’t even answered. When meeting facilitators allow only the easy questions to be addressed, they create the appearance of consensus while masking real problems. As a community, we should be wary of forums that use such tactics and we shouldn’t stand for it in publicly funded ones.

”We ask those individuals and groups to take our word for it,” said the PG&E spokesperson, which is ironic given their last-minute, unannounced change in the requested duration of their permit. Sorry, but our community is not about to bet the future of the crab fishery on the “word” of a billion dollar corporation. We think instead that movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn had it right: “A verbal agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.”

Pat Higgins and Ronnie Pellegrini serve on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District board.


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