Wave Test Site Narrowed To Two Oregon Towns

Possible sites for the Pacific Marine Energy Center – which aims to become the first grid-connected wave energy testing facility in the United States – have been narrowed from four Oregon communities to two, with Reedsport and Newport the finalists, according to officials at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center.

The announcement comes just weeks after the Oregon State University-based researchers heralded the deployment of the Ocean Sentinel, a test buoy with no grid connection. That was a big step forward for U.S. wave energy, and for Oregon in its goal of building a thriving industry in the state. But in the long run, a grid-connected test facility similar to the European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland is considered a vital piece to the wave energy puzzle.

Wave energy device at European Marine Energy Centre (image via Aquamarine Power)

The planned Oregon center would have four berths, connected to the grid, where wave energy developers could plug in their devices for testing.

Officials leading the effort have said they’ll need $8 million to really get the project rolling – and more than that to build it – and are awaiting final approval of $4 million from the Department of Energy. The state-backed Oregon Wave Energy Trust is also a partner on the project, and the European center is playing a role, too.

WET-NZ Device tested off Oregon coast (image via Pete Danko/EarthTechling)

Key factors in choosing the two finalist were “distance to the ocean depth from shore, access to support services and onshore infrastructure, community support and overall costs,” officials said.

In the final round, the officials said they’ll weigh Newport’s strengths in infrastructure (including a nearby electrical substation), transportation and community support against Reedsport’s strengths of having deeper water nearer to shore and supportive community leaders.

Strong community support will likely be vital, whichever town is chosen, as officials navigate a tricky approval process. Concerns about wave power have been expressed by commercial and recreational fishing interests, environmentalists and coastal residents worried about ocean views being marred. At the same time, there’s widespread hope that wave energy could be jobs booster in Oregon.

The private company Ocean Power Technologies recently won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to place up to 10 grid-connected buoys in the Pacific near Reedsport. An important piece to the license granted was an agreement OPT had reached in 2010 with 11 federal and Oregon state agencies as well as three nongovernmental stakeholders .

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.