When we were in New Orleans recently we learned about plans by an organization called Free Flow Power to generate electricity by harnessing the power in the deep Mississippi river close by. As part of our ongoing NOLA Changemakers interview series we talked to Jon Guidroz, Director of Project Development at Free Flow Power, about his clean energy project and the unique spirit of NOLA.
Can you tell us a little about what Free Flow Power does?
Free Flow Power Corporation was founded to produce clean renewable energy, using the force of rivers, streams, ocean currents, or tides, to generate electricity, without building new dams or diversions. We have developed a proprietary turbine generator technology that was tested at Alden Labs in March 2008 and we expect the next generation of our FFP Turbine Generator to be available for field-testing in the spring of 2009. This technology is applicable to a variety of variable speed and variable head environments. We have been issued preliminary permits by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) providing exclusive rights over approximately 100 hydrokinetic and low impact hydropower project sites on the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers.
The Mississippi River is our lead horse in the company. With 55 proposed project sites on the River (32 in Louisiana), we have more than 300 miles currently under preliminary permits issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Mississippi isn’t really a river any longer. It’s the largest channelized structure in the world. The US Army Corps of Engineers has spent billions of dollars modifying the river for national interests like flood control and safe navigation. This has restricted and confined the flows in a concentrating fashion ideal for hydrokinetics. The deepest and most channelized portion of the River is in southeastern Louisiana. It’s a very attractive corridor. Add to that a workforce with loads of experience in maritime construction and maintenance, LA was a logical satellite office choice for the company. It wasn’t until we were contacted by Sean Cummings and Startup New Orleans that we were convinced New Orleans was the place for FFP’s project development office to call home.
The FERC licensing process is arduous and expensive. I’m often asked, “If this is such a great opportunity, why hasn’t someone already done it?” There are many parts to a complete answer but a major factor has been the regulatory barrier to entry. Hydropower licenses (issued by the FERC) are notoriously difficult to obtain. We’re looking at a 3-5 year process is all goes perfectly well. Hydrokinetics is a nascent, low margin business; not the kind of industry normally capable of tackling such an intimidating process. A commitment to all the regulatory and technical hoops one must navigate is a costly marathon to enter. I like to think our efforts are helping to trail blaze and refine this treacherous road for all future hydrokinetic projects. My role as Director of Project Development is mostly focused on obtaining the Hydropower License and ensuring we respond to and anticipate stakeholder issues. Since we’re still a startup, I wear a lot of hats including fundraising, media communications, and other fancy responsibilities like making copies.
Like yourself, there seems to be a number of creative minded professionals moving to NOLA right now. How has your return to New Orleans been? What can you say about the entrepreneurial community there?
I spent about a decade away from New Orleans with periodic visits to my hometown for highlight events like JazzFest. It’s always been a fun place to visit but it wasn’t until after Katrina that I began to notice an extraordinary entrepreneurial community taking root. I spent that 10 years working and living in other industrious US cities (Washington, DC and San Francisco) without encountering anything quite as efficient and genuine as what’s happening in New Orleans right now. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit; never has it been so widely nurtured as it is at this moment.
The entrepreneurial community is selfless, experienced, and focused. Its size is efficient enough for streamlined networking yet robust enough to leave no problem without a recommended solution. It transcends industry-specific interests by being based in a communal need to build a healthy, local economy. In a city with a clean slate, everyone is helping one another with issues large and small because your success is my success. I have a few theories how this community came to be but none is more simple than it directly reflecting the creative energy and optimism of our city. A place that’s managed to reinvent its style and take on an unsuspecting cosmopolitan edge without abandoning deep roots in its rich cultural history. This is a place where any new idea is a good idea and there’s a community building that will take those good ideas to the next level. The StartUp New Orleans support network is real and actionable. Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. Add this community to a city where people want to live and a very low cost of doing business and you’ve got an entrepreneur’s playground. Again, without Sean Cummings’ outreach and interest in bringing FFP to New Orleans, I don’t think our project development headquarters would be in New Orleans right now.
When will your project go ‘online’ – and how much power will it generate?
We anticipate bringing our first utility-scale projects online in 2013 or 2014. The Mississippi River projects alone would generate about enough electricity for 1 Million average American homes 8 months out of the year.