Newsom Waves On SF Tidal Energy

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says that — no matter what — he is going to find a way to make tidal power happen in the Bay, SFGate reports today. The Mayor’s comments come in response to a study commissioned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that found tidal energy in the Bay would cost tens of millions of dollars and yield a meager megawatt or two of power. “I don’t care about the arguments against it,” Newsom was quoted as saying about tidal power. “I care about the arguments for it.”

Golden Gate

When the project was proposed in 2006, a report by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) claimed the mouth of San Francisco Bay was one of the best locations on the West Coast for tidal power. Officials hoped the project would generate as much as 38 megawatts of electricity. But Randall Smith, a utilities specialist at PUC who managed the most recent study, told us that wasn’t going to happen: “The currents just don’t support the original EPRI reports.” In comparison, officials estimate that the Bay of Fundy, with its famous and monstrous tides, has nearly 300 megawatts of potential tidal power.

Officials are now awaiting another study, this one commissioned by California utility PG&E, but Smith is confident it will yield similar results to PUC’s report. Smith says PG&E collected their data in December and will likely release it in early April.

Whether the San Francisco Bay is an ideal location for tidal power or not, Smith has doubts about the technology. “It’s just such a new technology. Almost all of [the turbines] are prototypes or pilot projects,” he said. “A lot of this is being done in Western Europe. They’re really on the cutting edge of this but even they are totally new to this.”

Major tests in this hemisphere are still at least a year away. In Nova Scotia, three tidal energy companies have been selected as candidates to test their turbines in the Bay of Fundy — Underwater Electric Kite, OpenHydro Group and Clean Current.

The debate under the bridge could cause an upswing in tidal energy investments. Investors recently got their feet with OreCon’s wave energy but now they need to dive deeper and check out what tidal power startups are doing. I bet there are VCs driving their hybrids across the Golden Gate each day heading to Sand Hill Road and some VC money could help wash away Newsom’s woes.

Photo credit to Rob Kroenert.