PG&E Checks Out Undersea Cable Canadian Firm Would Relay Wind Power Via Oregonby David R. Baker
San Francisco Chronicle, November 2, 2005
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is weighing a plan to string an undersea electric cable from Oregon to the Bay Area, snaking across 650 miles of ocean floor to bring clean, wind-generated power to California.
The utility recently signed an agreement with Sea Breeze Power Corp., a Canadian company, to explore laying the cable, which could start carrying current sometime between 2010 and 2012. Should the companies decide to go ahead with the project, which is still in the earliest stage of development, the price tag could be $1 billion.
California would not be the first place to try an undersea power cable. In July, workers finished stringing a 180-mile line between the island of Tasmania and the Australian coast. Another underwater cable will soon link New Jersey to Long Island. In California, the city of Pittsburg wants to stretch a cable beneath the bay, to San Francisco's southeastern waterfront.
The project would help PG&E meet state requirements to obtain 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydro power, within the next five years. It would also create a much-needed new pathway for power from the Northwest, a region that generates an electricity surplus.
California has just four high-power lines linking it to the Northwest's electrical plants and hydroelectric dams.
The state's limited links to outside electricity sources contributed to the energy crisis five years ago. Power companies used the limited transmission facilities to create the appearance of bottlenecks, which helped drive up electricity prices, according to California officials.
In addition, genuine technical problems on the lines also have created occasional power shortages.
"It's always a good course of action to look for multiple ways to import electricity," PG&E spokesman John Nelson said. "It appears, certainly initially, to be very promising."
Sea Breeze first conceived of the idea and approached PG&E to gauge the San Francisco company's interest.
Sea Breeze wanted ways to link future British Columbia wind farms -- including some of its own -- to customers farther down the coast interested in renewable power. The Vancouver firm has plans for eight wind farms on Vancouver Island.
"We fell into the transmission business by realizing that the potential here for renewables is much larger than what the local market could absorb," said Paul Manson, the company's president. One study, he said, suggested wind farms on the British Columbia coast could generate 7,000 megawatts of power.
"We realized the real opportunity matching potential with demand would be with California," he said.
Sea Breeze plans other underwater cables that would move power from its proposed wind farms on Vancouver Island to the mainland, linking with the California cable near Portland. One proposed cable would run between Victoria, British Columbia, and Port Angeles, Wash. Another would link Victoria to Vancouver.
The Canadian company is developing all the cables through a joint venture with one of the firms building the New Jersey-Long Island line.
As pictured by Sea Breeze and PG&E, the Portland-Bay Area cable would be the world's longest, running from a substation near the Oregon city to a location still to be picked. For most of its route, it would stay more than 3 miles off the coast.
Although the line would probably be buried close to shore, it would be laid on top of the seabed farther out, reducing construction costs. Because direct-current cables do not create the kind of powerful electromagnetic fields associated with alternating-current lines, the companies say, the health threat to nearby marine life should be minimized.
The organization that manages California's power grid expressed interest in the idea Tuesday, but noted that cheaper options may be more practical, said Gregg Fishman, spokesman for the California Independent System Operator.
"We're definitely interested in seeing California's transmission grid improved and strengthened," he said. "I think what we're also interested in, though, is making sure the projects that are approved give us the most bang for the buck."
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs