- Our Work
- News + Information
- Events + Conferences
- Become a Member
Anxiety is building as the state of Oregon prepares for a crucial ruling that could determine the future of wave energy.
The state is expected to approve a final plan by the end of the year that dictates where companies can build wave energy facilities.
The pending ruling pits marine power companies that have already invested millions in wave energy against Oregon’s $130 million commercial fishing industry, which includes seafood companies and well-backed environmental lobbies.
The budding wave energy industry and fishing and environmental groups are jostling for space off Oregon’s coast that wave energy advocates want for their facilities.
Jason Busch, the executive director of Portland-based nonprofit Wave Energy Trust — which advocates for the wave energy industry — said questions over the sea mapping will likely lead to negotiations between his group and fishing and environmental lobbyists over where wave energy equipment can be installed.
“We need to minimize our impacts while finding sites that actually work for us,” he said. “Putting us in the equivalent of ocean wilderness that’s a long way from the road with no substation nearby doesn’t work.”
Fishing industry interests worry that the devices would encroach on rich fishing and crabbing areas.
A source of renewable power
At stake is the $15 million-plus that state and private businesses have already poured into the industry since 2006.
The Oregon Innovation Council, which backs research and business development through state general fund money, has steered nearly $10 million toward the Oregon Wave Energy Trust and other industry efforts. Princeton, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies has spent between $5 million and $6 million on a wave energy device that will be installed near Reedsport.
Oregon is considered a national leader in wave energy development partly because the state has a 363-mile shoreline along the Pacific Coast. Oregon also wants to develop the industry because ocean energy can help the state reach goals requiring utilities to draw on renewable energy for 25 percent of their power by 2025.
Portland-based researcher ECONorthwest projected that a built-out wave power industry could eventually deliver $2.4 billion worth of revenue and 3,000 jobs to the state.
Yet the industry felt tremors when Scottish company Aquamarine Power closed its Newport office last November because of uncertainties over Oregon’s commitment to the sector.
As a result, a first draft of the territorial sea map released last spring stunned wave energy backers. The map indicated that only 2 percent of Oregon’s territorial waters — within three miles of the coast — aren’t superseded by fishing and environmental protections.
“To conclude that there’s not enough space out there (for wave energy stations) is premature,” said Belinda Batten, director of OSU’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. “The maps out there now catalogue what’s out there, and our job is to now figure out where marine energy should go.”
Among other hurdles, the marine energy sector must grapple with Oregon’s crabbing industry, which counts 433 vessels along the coast and generates $40.3 million in yearly revenue.
“Everyone’s picking out their own real estate where there aren’t conflicts with other groups,” said Nick Edwards, a Charleston-based crabber and shrimper who’s worked with the Oregon Wave Energy Trust on the issue. “We need the areas with the muddy bottoms. The state wants to protect the hard ground.”
John Holloway, co-chairman of the Oregon Anglers political committee’s ocean team, said his group will soon meet with the Wave Energy Trust and other marine power representatives. He worries that the federal government’s Energy Regulatory Commission will use its power of condemnation to procure space for wave energy stations.
Several wave energy companies had applied in 2007 with the Commission to develop energy production facilities off the Oregon coast.
“Obviously, these are all issues we’ll pay attention to,” added Shawn Miller, a lobbyist for the 9,000-member Coastal Conservation Association, which represents sport fishers. “We’re concerned about how new developments in the ocean will affect the fish population.”
Busch pointed out that the fishing groups have similar ocean floor needs to those in his industry. Sandy bottoms work well because they don’t offer rocky reefs. Flat-bottom areas, which are also optimal marine energy grounds, provide active crabbing environments.
State business leaders are closely tracking the topic.
“This is a critical issue given the bets we’ve placed as a state on wave energy being part of our energy future in the long term,” said Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association and Oregon Inc.’s vice-chairman. “We need to resolve this issue in a way that allows the industry’s research and other good work to continue.”
With more discussions regarding the mapping scheduled through rest of the year, industry supporters remain confident that they can reserve more ocean-floor space for marine energy facilities.
“It’s always a challenge when you’re working with different industry groups and state departments and the governor’s office,” said Dave Van’t Hof, a Lane Powell PC attorney and a Wave Energy Trust founding board member. “I’m optimistic, but we need to come up with a policy that’s, in the long term, cost-competitive.”
When the mapping plan is completed, it will include input from tribes and several state agencies.
“It’ll be difficult to strike a balance among all of those groups,” said Kimball Ferris, a Portland-based Miller Nash LLP attorney who’s providing counsel to the Wave Energy Trust. “This is critical for wave energy in Oregon. We have a blank slate we can write on, and this is a chance to do it right.”