OREGON LOOKS TO OCEAN FOR NEW ENERGY
Wave energy, the final frontier – these are the voyages of a whole host of exciting, ambitious ideas, one or more of which will change the way the U.S. gets electricity.
If there is an echo, in that opening sentence, of the William Shatner titles voiceover for the original Star Trek TV show, it is intentional. Wave energy developers are venturing into a virtually undiscovered realm seeking a huge potential energy discovery.
In another way, though, every story these days about hydrokinetic energies (wave, tide and current) is very similar: Testing is on-going, trials are imminent, there are a lot of regulatory hassles and there is opposition from environmentalists and the fisheries industries.
Case in point: Tillamook County in Oregon, seeing the gold rush going on in nearby Coos County, has jumped into the wave energy industry with goggles, wetsuit and flippers.
There are a few real wae eenrgy installations in Europe, none in the U.S. Competition along the east and west coasts is presently hottest to lock down parcels of ocean with powerful waves through pilot project applications. Buoy-style and cylinder-shaped concepts are still competing for superiority.
The West Coast, with a shorter drop off from the continental shelf into deep waters, holds more wave energy capacity potential than the East Coast, where the continental shelf is broad and offshore waters are shallow (ideal for the development of offshore wind installations).
Oregon’s wave energy gold rush began just barely 2 years ago. With small, economically ambitious seaports, coastal transmission networks and accommodating state regulatory policies, Oregon is prime wave energy territory.
Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has been active in Coos County with a buoy device. Tillamook County, with partner with Pelamis Wave Power, is working on a cylindrical technology.
A Tillamook County fisherman, describing the Pelamis wave energy device: "It looks like a piece of salami with a 16-foot diameter…"
Regulators in the region are struggling to keep up with the developers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversees projects inside a 3-mile line, and the Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Services (MMS) is responsible for projects outside those waters. It makes the permitting process – interesting?
Des McGinnes, business development manager, Pelamis Wave Power: "To use nautical terms, I'd describe the regulatory process as 'confused' and 'changeable…'"
Beyond bureaucratic complexities, confrontation with questions of environmental impact introduces another level of difficulty. There isn’t nearly enough yet known about the impact on marine life and habitat, on fisheries industries or on seabeds and shorelines.
The natural result: Opposition from fisheries industries and environmentalists.
With at least 2 inevitable levels of hoops to jump through (regulatory and environmental), getting into the wave energy game requires time, money and almost inexhaustible patience.
Example: Having sailed through the raging seas of federal and state regulation and completed some successful trial runs, OPT announced earlier this year it wanted to expand a small pilot project into a 200-buoy, 5-mile long project. It got a lot of outrage as a response.
Nick Furman, executive director, Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission: "That's five miles of productive habitat we can't put pots in."
Example: Tillamook County and Columbia Energy, its development partner, got its permits and financing set up. They are planning trial projects at Garibaldi, in the middle of important chinook fisheries, and at Netarts, in prime crabbing grounds. They are trying to prepare the locals. In response, the locals are trying to prepare the wave energy developers.
Linda Buell, Garibaldi Charters co-owner (with husband Mick) and co-chair, fisheries industries advisory committee: "They can't just come in here and grab up fishing grounds without offering anything in return…"
The developers have to get the idea across that local power production means a big local pay day: Jobs, tax revenues, and energy independence through clean New Energy.
Locals have to get the idea across to the developers that they’re happy to have the benefits if they don’t come at the expense of ocean habitats, traditional lives and livelihoods and treasured recreational resources.
Furman, Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission: "[The Reedsport 10-buoy project is] smack dab in the middle of crabbing grounds…We feel like we're struggling to keep up with the process…Let's put the brakes on a little."
It’s a classic confrontation: Energy developers versus locals. Each side has always learned from the other. (See Local Hero)
The burning industries were always fired by black gold fever. New Energy developers feel the heat of climate change and rising world energy hunger.
The folks in the coastal counties wonder why the big city folks are in such a hurry.
A Pelamis installation. (click to enlarge)
Off Oregon’s coast, wave power makes a splash
Gail Kinsey Hill, September 21, 2008 (The Oregonian)
Tillamook County officials (Paul Levesque, chief of staff); Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Wave Energy Trust; Columbia Energy Partners (Jon Norling, Vice President); Pelamis Wave Power (Des McGinnes, business development manager); Ocean Power Technologies (Len Bergstein, spokesman)
Tillamook County is joining Coos County in Oregon’s wave energy gold rush.
An OPT installation. (click to enlarge)
- 2006 to 2008:The Oregon gold rush has developed over the last 2 years.
- 2013: Tillamook County large-scale installations are at least 5 years off.
- 2025: Wave energy projects in Oregon could be generating 500 megawatts of electricity.
- Oregon’s Tillamook County will develop 6 sites from Newport to Coos Bay.
- Neighboring Coos County’s wave energy projects are in a 5-mile stretch, north to south, less than three miles from shore off Coos Bay, prime crabbing territory.
- There are a few operating wave energy projects in Europe, none in the U.S.
- Pelamis Wave Power is based in Scotland.
- Columbia Energy Partners is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Ocean Power Technologies is based in New Jersey.
- Columbia Energy Partners will do the Tillamook County feasibility study and handle the financing.
- Each of the 6 Tillamook County sites is seaward three miles from a utility transmission substation.
- The potential 500 megawatts of power capacity Tillamook County could generate is 3% of the state’s present consumption.
- The Garibaldi and Netarts projects will each be 30 megawatts, small by the standards of Columbia Energy Partners’ wind installations but a crucial beginning in the wave industry.
- The big OPT 200-buoy project would have an estimated 200-megawatt capacity.
- OPT also has a more advanced 10-buoy project off Reedsport which could begin selling power in the next 1-2 years.
click to enlarge
- Paul Levesque, chief of staff, Tillamook County: "We can either wait until someone runs roughshod over us, or we can make sure we have a say in what happens…"
- Len Bergstein, spokesman, OPT: "[We want to] show we're relentless in our willingness to sit around the table and discuss this project."