Save San Onofre…Again

A proposed wave farm at San Onofre ignites new debate

| posted on April 05, 2011

Tyler Warren glides towards the shore at San Onofre, where some fear that swell energy will be diminished if the proposed wave farm is built. Photo: Glaser

In 2008, surfers joined to protect one of Southern California’s most prized coastal recreation areas from being drastically altered by the proposed toll road project. Last Thursday, at the first public hearing for the proposed wave farm at San Onofre, a new battle commenced.

Wave farms are a relatively young technology for producing renewable energy. The concept is to capture the energy produced by ocean swells and convert it into electricity. If the project were approved, 2,000 generators per year would be attached to the sea floor a mile off the coast of San Onofre. Eventually, a total of 11,000 to 16,000 generators would be installed.

The proposal, lead by Chong Hun Kim of JD Products in Fountain Valley, may be getting off to a bad start with the local community. After Kim spoke at Thursday’s hearing, Chad Nelsen, the environmental director at Surfrider commented that Kim “doesn’t have a lot of experience both with the permitting process and the basics of what’s happening out in the ocean at San Onofre.”

One criticism of the proposal is that there may not be enough wave energy at the site for the project to be worthwhile. According to Nelsen, “the numbers in [Kim’s proposals] appear inconsistent, but I believe the idea is to basically replace the SONGS nuclear power plant (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) that generated 2,200 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to serve the needs of 1.4 million households.”

However, studies published by the BioOne organization and the International Journal of Energy Research support that there isn’t enough wave energy south of Point Conception to sustain a project of this magnitude. Kim disagrees, but since he refuses to divulge his method for capturing the energy, it’s difficult to determine whether the project in San Onofre is feasible. Unfortunately, secrecy doesn’t bode well in the midst of what should be an inclusive public process.

Additionally, the project’s effect on recreation in San Onofre could be drastic. A large chunk of ocean could be made entirely off-limits. With regard to its effect on the surf quality, the generators, which are a mile offshore and directly south of Trestles could shadow and diminish the energy of incoming south swells. Nelsen explains: “The wave farm by definition intends to draw energy from the swells coming on shore, so given the law of conservation of energy, any energy subtracted by the wave farm is less energy hitting the shore. The design has proposed over 10,000 metal floating boxes supported by frames that reach from the seafloor to the surface over a fairly large area—up to a square mile. I imagine this will act somewhat like a giant reef that will dampen and reduce wave energy.”

In terms of the impact on marine life, there are some clearly predictable effects caused by wave farms. The generators that transmit the electricity to land give off electro magnetic frequencies that will deter some animals, like sharks and stingrays from the local area. There are also potential issues with large mammals—seals, whales or dolphins— becoming entangled in the equipment that secures the generators to the sea floor.

Although one could focus on the negative aspects of the proposal at San Onofre, wave farms are an excellent source of domestic, renewable energy that produce zero carbon emissions. Surfrider was a firm supporter of the wave park built in Reedsport, Oregon, which the organization refers to as the “gold standard” for future projects— due to its inclusion of the local community and close monitoring on how the marine life is affected.

The continued struggle to preserve the current landscape in San Onofre reflects its hallmark importance to surfers and ocean enthusiasts. The wave farm proposal brings opposing beliefs into tension on how a finite amount of land should be used for a growing population that desires affordable energy. Nelsen believes that a compromise can be reached, stating, “The public rallying behind the ‘Save Trestles’ campaign demonstrated that it’s a really special place. There are a lot of areas of coast that aren’t so heavily used and I think we should look at those places for developing these sorts of projects.”

  • Matt O’Brien

    YET again, another outside interest is directly effecting surfing. Way to go Kim! SanO! Really!!!??? whatever…

  • Matt O’Brien

    is tha effecting or affecting? I can never get words right (or is that write?)

  • Bruce Archer

    Why do they keep screwing with the ocean? Ride the waves enjoy her beauty and just chill !

  • Ryne Spejcher

    this is ridiculous. if they’re going to do something like this, why not do it somewhere that has stronger waves, and less accessable beaches like central California. i know i’m restating pretty much everything in the article, but it doesnt make sense as to why San-O would be targeted in this. with such a high cultural history of surfing, that’s the LAST place a wave farm should be built.

  • Michael Fero

    So Exhausting 🙁 Why do even putatively smart people NOT do thier homework before making proposals like this?

  • Maharichie

    Kim probably has no idea where good areas for waves are, so his thinks, ‘hm where there are surfers there must be good waves. we’ll build it there!’ Idiot.

  • dean

    It seems like a good time to get Chong Hun Kim’s phone number and email address as well as JD Products contact info. and start explaining to them on a continuous basis that we will not allow this type of lunacy to take place here.

  • Rod Lobo

    To Matt O’Brien. “is that effecting or affecting? I can never get words right (or is that write?).”

    Both exist. The verb is to affect. As in “a wave farm would deeply ‘affect’ the San Onofre community”. The consequence that such a wave farm would produce is its ‘effect’.

    The article got it wrong most of the time, but it does not take away its relevance. I agree with Maharichie. That’s probably the reasoning this yoyo used.

  • Beach Bedding

    Save San-O! We did it once with Trestles, now we go after JD products!

  • Jay

    On March 2, 2010, JD Products, LLC (JD Products) filed an application for a preliminary permit, pursuant to section 4(f) of the Federal Power Act, proposing to study the feasibility of the proposed San Onofre OWEG Electricity Farm Project (project). The proposed project would utilize 11,443 Ocean Wave Electricity Generation (OWEG) units, an experimental technology, with an estimated installed capacity of 3,186 megawatts. The requested project boundary comprises of approximately 2 square nautical miles of coastal waters and lands located along the coast of San Diego County, California, including portions of the San Onofre California State Park.Show citation box

    Applicant Contact: Dr. Chong Hun Kim, PhD, JD Products, LLC., 16807 Woodridge Circle, Fountain Valley, CA 92708; (714) 767-7553; or via e-mail at Show citation box

  • Mike McCartney

    When’s the last time Dr. Kim drove his family to the beach and dove into the ocean? I’ll bet never.

    This 6-8 mile stretch of San Onofre is one of California’s last remaining rural, natural surf beaches that’s still free of snack bars, oil rigs, T-shirt shops, pavement (thank you San-O Surf Club) , parking meters and sunburned schizoid panhandlers.
    Planting 10,000 metal trees will create slop-waves like at Capo Beach.

    This wave farm is as offensive to surfers/beach lovers as installing 10,000 wind-generators 2 blocks outside Disneyland. I’d rather surf in front of SONGS-TITS any day.

  • Gregory Egan

    Red Flag!

    “Kim disagrees, but since he refuses to divulge his method for capturing the energy”

    Just send a note to your patent attorney buddy and you’re protected

    No hocus pocus

  • oceansrealm

    this guy contacted scripps about help on this about 4 years ago. We basically told him (in a nice way) to go back to smoking his pipe.

    some simple math can put it in perspective:

    10,000 generators
    1 generator = 3 hrs maintenance/yr

    thats 30,000 hrs / year in scheduled maintenance
    there are only 8760 hrs in a year

    this means that you would have to have a fleet of ships continuously deployed to service these things.

    a “cheap” ship with the necessary equipment to achieve this task costs about $20,000 / day… and can be as much as $50,000 / day or more.

    this “wave farm” idea would cost a minimum of $63 million dollars/year just to scrape the barnacles off the machinery. Brown will kill this in an instant.

    i don’t think we have anything to worry about. this will never happen.