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Oregon’s coastal waters continue to appeal to ocean energy developers, but they say progress is tied to state zoning, which may not be finalized until next summer.
The state in 2007 established Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a public-private nonprofit charged with growing the wave energy industry, but not one full-scale device has been placed into the ocean yet. However, technology developers are moving forward with projects.
Aquamarine Power USA announced Wednesday that it received a $100,000 matching grant from OWET to gather data on wave energy potential. But CEO Martin McAdam said the firm mostly is awaiting completion of Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan, so that it can learn where it can place equipment.
“We have been working in Oregon for the last three years and would really like to see an opportunity to deploy a small number of our machines as quickly as possible,” McAdam said. “Oregon has been a vocal leader, saying ‘we want this industry here,’ but the Territorial Sea Plan is an essential part of whether we can actually work here.”
The Territorial Sea Plan provides regulations regarding resources and activities in the state-owned waters for the three nautical miles extending from the coastline. The plan is prepared by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, a branch of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, in consultation with other government and local groups.
After a number of wave energy companies in 2007 submitted permit applications to develop facilities within fishing areas off the Oregon coast, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski directed the DLCD to amend the Territorial Sea Plan to include provisions for wave energy siting.
A working group since 2008 has collected data and consulted with communities about ocean energy development to make recommendations for how the Territorial Sea Plan should account for siting.
“We’ve advised companies to wait until our planning process is done and we have designated sites for renewable energy development,” said Paul Klarin, co-chairman of the Territorial Sea Plan Working Group. “Some folks don’t feel like the process is going fast enough and want to have sites assigned sooner, but we do have time on our side. The industry is not ready to commercialize yet.”
But developers contend that commercialization is close, and that regulatory uncertainty is the real problem.
“We’re trying to figure out how to move from pre-commercial technology to actual commercial technology,” said Jason Busch, executive director of OWET. “And it’s very, very close. But until (a company) has a project in the water, the whole discussion of permitting is purely theoretical – you can come up with all kinds of problems or underestimate problems you didn’t see coming.”
McAdam said that installing equipment in the ocean is essential at this stage of development.
“We need to move now to see how these machines are operating and so people in the community can get more comfortable with the technology and the minimal impact it has on the environment,” he said.
Fishing groups, environmental activists and local government officials have actively engaged in the planning process by presenting concerns about potential disruptions caused by ocean energy development. The Territorial Sea Plan Working Group in June wrapped up a series of public information sessions, and it is analyzing more data this summer.
Klarin said the group will draft maps and planning options to share with the public in another round of work sessions beginning in October.
Industry representatives also will have be able to weigh in before the Land Conservation and Development Commission finally adopts maps into a territorial plan, which is projected to be finalized in early summer 2012.
Busch says the planning process should account for the ocean energy industry as much as other interests.
“We should not be looking at what is left over when you’re done protecting certain areas; there are some areas that are best for us,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be identifying places that are inappropriate for developing, but those that are appropriate as well; otherwise, we’ve wasted our time.”
McAdam said he is looking forward to seeing the initial state maps and plans because Aquamarine Power is planning to work with Oregon communities to install a couple of machines within the next three years. He emphasized that the company uses local products and contracts, which amounted to $6 million for a project in Scotland.
“Everything from buying nuts and bolts to hiring divers that we train to participate in construction, down to the photographer – we use local companies as much as we can,” he said.
The biggest project moving forward is from Ocean Power Technologies, which plans to deploy a 150-kilowatt test buoy approximately two and a half miles off the Oregon coastline near Reedsport. The test buoy represents the first of three phases expected to lead to development of a wave energy park with more than 100 buoys. Construction is still under way on the first buoy, though 10 would be permitted.
Oregon Iron Works is installing internal technology in the test buoy’s spar, but it needs other parts from Ocean Power Technologies to continue assembly, according to David Gibson, renewable energy program manager at Oregon Iron Works.
In the meantime, Oregon Iron Works is talking with other wave energy developers about prototypes or future projects, Gibson said.