Waiting for wave energy

Waiting for wave energy

The wide range of technologies possible in ocean energy has added to the social pressure to plan for its arrival. Coastal leaders have welcomed the industry for its economic potential, but with caution, recognizing it could have negative consequences for commercial fishermen, shrimpers, charter operators, and recreational sports and fishing if planned poorly.

 

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Model of buoy from Oregon Iron Works
“It’s kind of like a gold rush that’s going on in the ocean right now. Everyone is interested in ocean energy and we wanted to have a say in what was happening,” says Tillamook County Commissioner Mark Labhart, who believes the planning process is critical to giving residents, recreational users and industries like fishing a voice in how ocean energy fits in.

Busch and others, however, argue Oregon has limited time to capitalize on wave-energy development and that the time to hit the water is now.

“The key is to become the locus of ocean wave power in the United States,” he says, and export talent, materials and technology for the next 50 years. “Do we really want to say 'no' to that because of potential impacts about which we’re doing our very darnedest to learn?” The ocean is a big place, he says, and there must be ways for companies to hit the water as planning continues.

One look to Ontario, Canada, where a sudden moratorium on offshore wind power caused companies to flee, and the root of Busch’s fear is laid bare. Like most businesses, ocean power companies flock to opportunity, not to places to wait. Busch worries that a year or more of inaction in Oregon could similarly reverse OWET’s progress.

Theresa Wisner, Oregon community outreach coordinator for Aquamarine Power in Newport, says waiting is a tough sell to investors. “We completely understand the need for spatial planning on the ocean. It will help us considerably in the long run by allowing us to focus in on places that we should go.” But she adds, “We cannot wait indefinitely for that. Aquamarine has put a significant investment here in the state to see this move forward.” She says she is currently negotiating with state officials on solutions.