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Aquamarine Power, a Scottish wave energy company, closed its Newport office last week, saying a lack of certainty in the state was making it impossible to continue investing in Oregon — at least for now.
Aquamarine established a one-person office in Oregon last year with the intent of deploying its wave energy technology — a buoy that specializes in generating power in near-shore environments — off the Oregon Coast.
Last week the company informed its partners that it was closing its Newport office and consolidating U.S. operations out of California.
“We are at present unable to proceed until we are given some certainty over seabed leases pending compleition of the Territorial Sea Plan process,” said Martin McAdam, Aquamarine’s CEO, in a statement.
But while Aquamarine’s exit may be viewed as a blow to Oregon’s nascent wave energy industry, Jason Busch, executive director of the state-funded Oregon Wave Energy Trust, doesn’t think the state has seen the last of Aquamarine Power.
“Oregon has great resources,” Busch said.
Even so, he said that Aquamarine was being kept in limbo.
Of the wave energy companies active in Oregon, Busch said only two are at the stage of being ready to deploy buoys in the water. The first, Ocean Power Technologies, had the state approval of the first two phases of its wave energy project off the coast of Reedsport grandfathered in.
Aquamarine Power, on the other hand, got to Oregon after the state initiated the process — began in 2008 — of developing a Territorial Sea Plan that will set aside chunks of the state’s coastal waters deemed most suitable for wave energy development.
The process was slated to be completed in 2010. The latest estimates have it wrapping up sometime in the middle of next year. In the mean time, the state is unable to offer any seabed leases for wave energy development other than for short-term testing sites.
Aquamarine Power in August announced it secured a $100,000 matching grant from OWET, part of the trust’s commercialization grant program, to gather data on the wave energy potential off the Oregon Coast. But without any lease certainty, the company determined it was unwise to invest the $100,000 of its own money necessary to move forward with the grant.
“We’ve got no security in Oregon. As a small startup company, we can’t afford those kind of sums,” said Neil Davidson, Aquamarine Power spokesman.
He added that the company remains interested in Oregon, but that it will widen its search for suitable offshore wave energy sites to California and Washington. Aquamarine Power has a stated goal of having a three-buoy demonstratin project in the water off the U.S. West Coast by 2016. Davidson said a similar project off the coast of Scotland has resulted in about $3 million in regional economic activity.
Busch said OWET is continuing with lease negotiations with the state on Aquamarine’s behalf, but acknowledges that the risk was too high for a company.
On the other hand, rushing the process of the Territorial Sea Plan would hold high risks for Oregon, he said.
“It ought to be a time-consuming, arduous process,” Busch said of the Territorial Sea Plan decision-making process. “We’re making policy decisions about how we’re going to use the public commons.”