Tidal Energy
7:30 am
Thu December 13, 2012

Not Easy To Find Room For Ocean Energy

It goes without saying that the Pacific Ocean is vast. So it may come as a surprise to hear the sea described as "crowded." Perhaps even too crowded to make room for the nascent industry of wave and tidal energy. Taxpayers and investors have pumped tens of millions of dollars into finding ways to turn the ocean's power into electricity. Correspondent Tom Banse reports high stakes negotiations to identify wave energy sites on the Oregon Coast are finally getting somewhere.

A wave energy generator built by Ocean Power Technologies rests on its side on a dock in Scotland, just prior to deployment. OPT says its Reedsport, Ore. project will use the same type of buoy.
Credit Photo courtesy OPT

It's the end of the beginning of what has been a long and fraught process. A state advisory committee wraps up with a light-hearted but telling vote to adjourn.

Committee Member: "Please signify by saying 'argh..." Response: "Argh!"

That "argh" comes from 25 people who've spent months parsing ocean maps in an attempt to balance competing interests.

Edwards: "It's hard to fit a new industry into an already crowded territorial sea."

Nick Edwards of Coos Bay advocates for commercial fishermen like himself. He says the placement of industrial energy generators on top of prime crabbing grounds could spell disaster for the local fishing fleet. But Edwards says major fishing groups realized early on that just saying "no" was not an option.

Edwards: "We felt it was better to form a group to work with wave energy because we were basically looking down the barrel of a shotgun - and it was loaded. Well, that time is now. It's here. It's readily apparent that it's coming to Oregon. There's a lot of horsepower, there's a lot of funding behind it. It's better to be a part of the process than to ignore the process. The head-in-the-sand doesn't work."

Sitting a few seats away at the table is Jason Busch, director of the state-funded Oregon Wave Energy Trust. That group wants the Northwest to be in the forefront of a new global industry, if it can be done responsibly.

Busch: "There has to be a way to do this. There has to be a way to make it work. Every form of development in the country displaces something. You can say that about every road, every church that has ever been built impacts somebody."

The many vested interests around this table searched high-and-low for squares of ocean that present the least conflict. It's the kind of search being repeated pretty much every place in the world ocean energy developers come calling. Latest example: British Columbia is convening an ocean zoning process for some of its coastal waters.

The Oregon panel eventually recommended that the state allow no more than four or five commercial wave energy projects for starters. They also said the projects should be equitably distributed up and down the coast. Those are acceptable "sideboards" to Greg Lennon. He represents Ocean Power Technologies, a project builder.

Lennon: "It's an indication to the wave energy industry that Oregon is looking to work with wave energy companies in finding sites. They've identified a few, which is perfect for companies to move forward with to prove out their technologies."

Ranked highest by the state advisory panel is a site near Astoria in front of the National Guard's Camp Rilea. That location is less controversial than others because the ocean acreage is already off-limits some of the time during target practice.

Meanwhile, in Washington, active permitting for marine energy is down to one public utility. Snohomish PUD is exploring tidal power generation near the top of Puget Sound. First in the water though next spring is a commercial scale wave energy generator near Reedsport, Oregon. It will eventually become a 10-buoy demonstration project. It got a license before the ocean zoning process gathered momentum.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio