June 19, 2008

Proposed Power Project Takes Wrong Approach

By James Foit

I have read, in total, Free Flow Power Corp.'s application for a preliminary permit for a hydrokinetic project and have examined its Web site. I'm also familiar with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's mission to use resources as effectively as possible for the country's benefit. As such, I have serious concerns about this proposal to generate electricity from the floor of the Niagara River.

The company's product is a 6-foot diameter turbine. This in itself shows a complete failure in understanding the simplest of hydrodynamic principals. Therefore, I'm left with the impression that the company rushed its design to get into the market as fast as possible in order to grab up water resources as quickly as possible. Turbine-based designs need to be as large as possible to efficiently extract energy from flowing water. This is why turbine designs throughout the world have about double that diameter. The maximum diameter limit is about 12 feet because any larger causes damaging cavitations.

If the commission allows this corporation to install these devices, it will have failed to most efficiently utilize our country's natural resources to produce electricity.

A second concern is that Free Flow Power implies in its letter that only mass production can make this a viable industry. It will be viable regardless. Mass production will allow less viable areas to be tapped for energy because of lower costs, but why not mass- produce and install the most efficient design? The American people should not have to settle for less energy just because this group is grabbing up water rights.

A third concern: Efficiency is a number in the "wind industry" that has been falsified for years (author Paul Gipe). With so much riding on this single number, the hydrokinetic industry will likely do the same.

The commission should have companies in this industry install a single unit and tie it to an independent utility. Then have the utility track how much power it produces. Once output is agreed upon, that output needs to be divided by the entire cross-sectional area that the device takes up. This gives a true output for the amount of the river's cross-sectional area the technology is using.

A fourth concern is cost. Small turbines will cost more per kilowatt-hour than larger turbines because each of these small turbines will have to have its own generator. Small generators are more costly per kilowatt-hour to produce than larger generators.

I applaud Free Flow Corp.'s knowledge that economies of scale will increase its profits. But a poor design will produce less energy for our country -- a country in a world where more and more energy will need to come from renewable sources. Please, let's find the right design and go with that and then use economies of scale. This company is putting the cart before the horse by using economies of scale as an argument to justify its product.

James Foit is an engineer with a lifelong interest in the subject of water power.

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