By Jane Stebbins
Generating energy from the power of ocean waves is the wave of the future, and Oregon is on the forefront in the United States.
Buoys – some long pipes that sit atop the sea, others that are grounded in the seabed and extend into the waves – are proposed in seven locations along the Oregon Coast, but those in attendance at an informational meeting last week are not in favor of one proposed near the Rogue Reef in Gold Beach.
About 20 stakeholders, most of them fishermen and crabbers from Brookings, were in Gold Beach last Friday to learn about the emerging technology and the management plan that will direct it.
The state is mandating large-energy utilities in Oregon to generate 25 percent of their energy through renewable sources, including hydropower, wave, biomass, geothermal, wind and solar, by 2025.
The state and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) agreed in 2007 not to locate any more energy facilities until Oregon revises its Territorial Seas Plan.
If FERC likes Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan, it might use it as a guideline in federal waterways, defined as three to 120 miles from shore, said Dave Lacey, the south coast organizer for Our Ocean, a coalition of conservation groups in Oregon.
But if Oregon fails to develop a plan, the planning will revert to the FERC and no longer be under local control.
The plan is an ecosystem-based management document, outlining economic values – fisheries and tourism among them – and aesthetics, ecology and recreation. Using fishing and crabbing maps, input from polls and holding numerous meetings, seven sites were proposed along the Oregon Coast.
One of them, proposed by Nick Edwards of Charleston, who serves on the Oregon Energy Trust and the state Crabbing Commission, is the Rogue Reef. Those in attendance were unanimous in their opposition to that location, saying that the ideal spot is near Charleston, where waves are in abundance and an energy substation is located.
“The energy industry loves this site,” Lacey said.
As a new technology, the wave-energy collecting devices vary in appearance and function.
One type, used in Scotland and Portugal, lies on the water and absorbs the wind-driven wave energy. Another type involves a buoy affixed to a jetty, generating energy as the waves pound against it. And yet another prototype features an arm-like mechanism whose “hand” bobs on the ocean waves and bends at an “elbow.”
One, like the one used in a test near Reedsport, is affixed to the ocean floor and pulled up and down in the ocean waves. Some even do double-duty, featuring windmills atop the generators.
“Some are on the seabed on the ocean floor, some are in the water column, some are sitting on the surface, some project up from the surface into the atmosphere, like wind – many different sizes, many different forms, many different footprints,” said Paul Klarin, the marine program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. “There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of plan.”
The United States can learn from other countries, however.
“There are places way ahead of us on this front: Scotland, England,” Lacey said. “Maybe some of these will work for us.”
Advantages of wave energy include that it is green, renewable, reliable and has tremendous energy potential. Disadvantages include the possible effects on fisheries, the ecosystem – including sounds that could affect whales – visual impacts and its high costs.
A typical household uses 1 kilowatt per day; Ocean Power Technologies’ first utility-scale buoy is rated at 40 kilowatts. The Reedsport buoy was designed to produce 150 kilowatts.
According to the Ocean Energy Council, wave-driven buoys are hoped to eventually produce energy at a cost of 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The best technology, in the United Kingdom, is producing energy at an average cost of 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
In comparison, electricity generated by large-scale, coal-burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Jason Busch, the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, said the energy generation alone would be “great,” and having the devices survive a winter storm would be “priceless.”
Yet, the first of the devices was anchored this fall in Reedsport – and washed up on the beach in mild fall weather.
“We’re all for testing some of this stuff,” Lacey said, adding that it should be implemented gradually. “But the Rogue Reef is not the place to do it.”
Conservationists want any plans to avoid construction in river mouths, rock seabeds or headlands, be adaptive to change, consider cumulative effects, meet renewable energy standards and maintain the coastline’s legacy.
“We don’t want our kids to see all these out there and it becomes the new normal,” Lacey said.
Other concerns included buoys becoming loose and landing on the reef, unmapped rocks, salmon runs on the Rogue, if the installation of the buoys could be phased in, and the effects on the live-fish industry if additional leeway required of the buoys would force fishermen farther out to sea.
A Territorial Sea Plan Advisory Committee meeting will be held at the Salishan Lodge in Gleneden near Lincoln City from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 6.