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Federal officials have given the green light to begin installation of 10 electricity-generating buoys off the Oregon Coast, clearing the way for what will be the first wave energy station in the United States.
Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey-based company, is close to completing construction of the first of the generating buoys and is expected to tow it to Reedsport for installation later this year. A company spokesman said the first buoy could arrive in October.
Once fully deployed, the 10 buoys should generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity by converting the up-and-down motion of the waves into clean power, which would be fed into the region’s electricity grid through an undersea cable. It should take two to three years to complete build-out of the power station, said Gregory Lennon, senior director of business development for Ocean Power Technology.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently granted the company a 35-year license to operate the offshore station. Company officials said the license reflects not only the potential of wave energy but the collaboration among a variety of interests along the coast and in other parts of the state that moved the project forward.
“The 35-year term of the license demonstrates the commercial potential of wave power, and this will support initiatives to secure financing for the project,” Charles Dunleavy, the company’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement.
“We appreciate the efforts of many who have assisted us during this licensing process and who recognize its positive significance for the economy and environment of Oregon, as well as its coastal communities.”
The first of the buoys is nearing completion at the Oregon Iron Works plant in Clackamas. It will be moved soon to the Columbia River, where it will be launched and tested before being towed to Reedsport.
The 140-foot-tall installations, with just the top 30 feet rising above the water, will be placed 2.5 miles offshore in an area one-quarter-mile square.
Once all buoys are in place, the generating station is expected to produce as much as 1.5 megawatts of power, equivalent to what is used by about 1,000 average homes.
Different companies have taken different approaches to using ocean energy to generate electricity. OPT’s technology involves a huge spar that is moored to the ocean floor and allowed to bob on the swells.
The up-and-down motion of the buoy as it rides ocean waves drives a generator and produces electricity that enters the power grid through an undersea cable. The cable will be tied into the grid at a substation in nearby Gardiner.
Lennon said the company has deployed a similar buoy off the coast of Scotland and has been working with the Navy on a project using smaller versions placed in the ocean near Hawaii. But this will be the first time an array of power-generating buoys has supplied electricity to the grid on a commercial scale.
“This will be the first grid-connected project in the United States of this significant size,” he said.
The company has been working for years not only to fine-tune its design for the generators but also to convince commercial anglers and crabbers, recreational anglers, environmentalists and state and local officials that ocean energy can be harvested without harming other resources. An agreement reached two years ago lays out how the company will work with various interest groups to monitor the station’s effect on ocean resources and respond to any problems.
That agreement has allowed Ocean Power Technology’s relatively modest plan to move forward, but the future of larger offshore power stations remains controversial. The state is developing a map of offshore resources that is expected to identify where additional power stations might be located, but finding places large enough to be commercially viable that don’t also harm commercial and recreational fishing is proving challenging.
Still, the state has become an enthusiastic backer of wave energy.
The Oregon Business Journal said the state has pumped $10 million into wave energy through the nonprofit Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which works with industry to advance the technology in the state. Ocean Power Technology has put another $5 million to $6 million into the project, it said.
Wave energy projects are advancing on several fronts. Oregon State University has joined with the University of Washington to form the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which is developing a testing infrastructure for wave energy devices, known as the Pacific Marine Testing Center.
Public meetings to consider possible locations for the testing center are being held this week, including one Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Reedsport’s Pacific Auditorium, 2260 Longwood Drive. Sites being considered are Newport, Reedsport, Coos Bay and Camp Rilea near Warrenton.
Several companies have expressed an interest in deploying or testing wave energy devices along Oregon’s coast. OSU currently is working with a New Zealand company on ocean trials for a half-scale prototype device off Newport.
In addition to its Reedsport location, Ocean Power Technology also has taken preliminary steps to establish a larger wave energy station off Coos Bay. That project would produce 50 megawatts of power, but Lennon said what the company learns from operating the Reedsport station will help determine whether to move into the planning phase for a Coos Bay station.