NEWPORT — While it could be a couple of decades before wave energy is a feasible source of power here on the coast, an energy station off the shoreline will soon host a series of experimental buoys which could boost the local grid with 20 megawatts of power.
Researchers with Oregon State University’s PacWave project have been mapping the seafloor and studying sediments and ecosystems in the test area, preparing for the burying of cable that will pipe energy from wave generators seven miles southwest of South Beach to a utility conversion and monitoring facility north of Waldport.
Oregon State University is finalizing the purchase of 4.5 acres off of Wenger Lane, where the energy from up to 20 generators will be monitored and converted for the grid.
Much of the action will occur well offshore, said Burke Hales, chief scientist on the project.
“It isn’t something you should be able to see, hear or access from the beach,” he said.
In months ahead, there will be some noticeable effects of the project, though. The marine
Crews will modify and rebuild the parking lot to install manholes that service connections between the marine cable and a cheaper, less specialized cable that will take the electricity out to Highway 101 and south about a third of a mile to the Wenger Lane site.
Some 50 residents who gathered at Rogue Brewery on Wednesday night got an update on the project and wanted to know how locals will benefit, what sort of jobs will be created and how the environment will be protected.
An infusion into the local economy will come primarily from a boost to marine supply businesses and support services, Hales said. Once the site is up and running, it won’t take more than 10 to 12 people to staff it, so large gains in employment can’t be expected there, he said.
Monitoring part of the plan
Monitoring for wildlife entanglement in anchoring cables and noise pollution from the wave energy devices are key priorities, Hales assured the group.
While the presence of the buoys, cables
“We’re going to put a
When the site is decommissioned, PacWave will not be allowed to leave behind a junk pile, he said.
“Ultimately, we have a 25-year lease and when that’s over, we have to get everything out of there,” he said.
The project creates a pre-permitted space for commercial energy developers to test a variety of devices to harness the waves.
A handful of developers have expressed serious interest in the site, piqued by the rarity and convenience of the pre-permitted facility, the project’s operations and logistics manager Dan Hellin told the newspaper.
The site is more than five years deep into permitting hurdles.
In an interview,
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “That’s part of the reason we have a test site.”
The audience absorbed the science and some of the history of wave energy generation, whose scale and ambitions locally were reduced over a decade in the face of the economic downturn and opposition from fishermen.
Support for “slow way”
Scaled back to a level that suits the environment and community, wave energy exploration is enjoying support from commercial fishermen that was noticeably lacking a decade ago. At the time, numerous applications for wave farms had fishing operators worried about
Concern about “death by 1,000 cuts” persists for fishermen, said longtime commercial operator Bob Eder, who is vice chairman of the stakeholder group Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy. That said, “I’m proud of the local fleet for seeing beyond our own needs and seeing the test site is a reasonable way to approach wave energy,” Eder said in a phone interview. “This is the slow way — finding a technology that works. Our group can see this is an appropriate fit for our community, and it really will deliver some economic benefit right away.”
The communication between scientists and the commercial fishing industry is something to be celebrated, Eder said.
“We support the knowledge-based industry,” he said. “We’re not excited about the prospect of hundreds of wave generators, loss of space and possible environmental impacts to our renewable resource. If there are proposals for large projects, we are going to have to turn to this community and say ‘help us.’”
Linda Grossman and her companion Gayle Hansen said they were excited about the prospect of the alternative technology and the possible public benefit of a new energy source.
“I think we all profit. There will be jobs,” said Grossman after Hales’ presentation. “It’s another technology that people in the area can benefit from. It’s the future. Students and young people who want to work in alternative energy — this is their chance to learn from what is happening.”