A Conversation with a CEO

A few afternoons ago I had an unexpected phone message from Principle Power’s CEO Alla Weinstein who was kind enough to return my multiple phone calls. Turns out she was away in Europe. I asked her about the current status of the Principle Power prototype project in Portugal (now there’s a tongue-twister) as well as a few other wind turbine related questions. Here’s the summary of our conversation:

Q: What’s the status of the WindFloat prototype project currently going on in Portugal?

Ms. Weinstein: It’s going quite well. The project is defined and we’re hoping to complete it by 2011. As we progress with development, Principle Power will share the information with Oregon.

Q: What are the differences between the prototypes of Blue H and Principle Power?

Ms. Weinstein: Blue H’s design is based on a tension leg methodology that has a number of issues to resolve. First, it’s a fairly expensive technology and involves hiring divers. Second, it’s not suitable with areas of high tidal variation. Third, the mooring involves large metal pieces that are flooded and sunk. This leads to the question of how do you decommission the unit while Principle Power’s WindFloat has a very low impact on the ocean floor.

Ms. Weinstein also explained that Blue H’s prototype uses a two blade turbine that isn’t in standard production, unlike the commonly manufactured one Principle Power uses. In addition, she said the Blue H model never generated electricity and is still being worked on. Both models are designed to complete assembly in the harbor and to function in depths of 50 plus feet.

Q: What are Principle Power’s future plans for the Tillamook PUD project?

Ms. Weinstein: The permitting for the Tillamook project will take, on its own, a couple of years. We’re not losing anytime especially because [permitting] takes longer than anyone would think.

Weinstein also explained that Principle Power is continuing to raise funding for its various projects. The $750,000 Department of Energy (DOE) grant awarded to the company in September will, she said, apply to the prototype’s environmental research, while the project involving the University of Maine, which received $8 million from the DOE in October, involves a small test turbine of 100 kilowatts which is, Weinstein explained, “not big whatsoever.” That project along with the work in Portugal will serve, she said, to “validate the technology.”

Q: How much is the development and installation of a single WindFloat estimated to cost?

Ms. Weinstein: Our financial goal is $3,500 per installed kilowatt. However, that depends on so many factors. For example, one of the biggest issues we’re facing in Oregon is the Astoria Bridge over the Columbia River because the closest facilities capable of manufacturing the technology are in Portland but the end product would be too tall to get under the bridge. But then where do we manufacture the product on the coast? The closest shipyard big enough is in Seattle. Then what? Do we build in Seattle and drag it down? These are the sort of logistical problems we’re facing that end up being more complicated than the actual technology.

Q: So why is developing offshore wind worth the money?

Ms. Weinstein: How many offshore wind farms are there on the West Coast now? None. Why is that? People don’t want them but people need energy. People need clean energy. We need all the energy we can get so we can lower our dependency on fossil fuels.

One other thing: Before this interview I wasn’t aware that WindFloat technology also takes advantage of wave energy. The two legs in front of the WindFloat are so designed that a concept Ms. Weinstein called “oscillating water columns” powers a turbine and, thus, generates electricity along with the spinning of the wind turbine. Talk about killing two birds with one stone…

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