By Gina Binole
November 1, 2016
While protesters in Standing Rock, N.D continue to fight a $3.7 billion pipeline that would move 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day through four states, some Oregonians are pushing for an alternative energy project that could lessen our dependence on oil.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators from Washington, Alaska and Oregon, including Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined forces to help convince the federal government to construct the country’s first grid-connected wave energy device test center off the Oregon coast. The Department of Energy is offering up to $40 million to help finance the facility. which would cover about 80 percent of the overall cost.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the Northwest contingent said after “more than 10 years of work and over $11 million in federal and non-federal funding,” backers of the Oregon project are poised for success. The DOE also has provided support to a possible facility off of the Central California Coast, but officials said they would choose just one project for final design, permitting and construction support.
The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a nonprofit group working to create the energy test site, has proposed siting it about 6 nautical miles northwest of Yaquina Bay, off of Newport, where wave energy devices would transfer power through cables to vessels that would then transmit it to shore.
“We have tremendous wave energy resources in Oregon,” says Jason Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust and a former renewable energy attorney. OWET, along with NNMREC, supports this project. “We are way, way behind Europe in this effort – but they don’t have the resources we have, and their costs are higher. As we become more aggressive in attacking climate change, people are coming around to the concepts of alternative energy, specifically marine renewable energy, which includes wave, wind and tidal.”
If the DOE does choose Oregon, Busch says test center supporters will lobby Oregon lawmakers in the upcoming state legislative session to help finance the remainder of the $50 million project. Busch wagers the return on investment should be fairly fast, with four separate berths allowing for four different technologies to be tested in the water at any one time. He says if all goes well, the test center could be fully operational within two years.
Of course, there are always those who are less certain wave energy is the way to go, and they worry about competing interests in the ocean. For instance, fishing industry representatives have complained in the past that marine renewable energy might be akin to the advent of hydroelectricity in the Northwest in the 1930s. Builders then did not consider the adverse effects dams would have on salmon, and the intricate ecosystem they support.
“There are people who make their living, or merely recreate, on the ocean, and they see wave energy as another competitor jockeying for space,” Busch says, admitting there used to be a lot of unknowns regarding wave energy. But he says he’s been working on wave energy for nearly a decade, and there has been a great deal of effort made to understand everything from acoustical impact to mammal interactions and electromechanical forces to bird collisions. He also says studying and evaluating wave energy’s effects on the ocean and surrounding environment will be part of the ongoing operation.
What Busch, federal lawmakers and others insist though, is that Oregon is in a great position to be a leader in marine renewable energy.
Senator Wyden has said: “Wave, tidal and other marine energy sources have enormous potential and Oregon is poised to be an international leader in the commercialization of the marine renewable energy industry,” No one knows what technology is going to trigger the next energy revolution, so it’s common sense for our country to make it easier for private companies to test their newest technologies, and continue researching this promising energy frontier.”