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Waiting for wave energy

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Articles - May 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
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Industry players range from cautiously optimistic to concerned about the state’s planning process as it appears increasingly open-ended. Though all say they support the planning, and that a completed plan will have benefits — chiefly a level of certainty in permitting that’s likely to play well with investors — there is grumbling about the lack of a deadline, a basic industry need.

Justin Klure, a partner with Pacific Energy Ventures in Portland, works with several ocean energy clients at different levels of commercialization.

 

0511_WaveEnergy_06
Oregon Iron Works constructs the heave plate for the OPT buoy; it has a diameter of 40 feet and weighs 44 tons.
“Marine spatial planning, I think, has significant benefit to the industry with regards to understanding, not only so much where projects should go, but where they should not go. But with regards to it being another 12 to 18 months… that’s a challenge,” he says.

Developers such as Mike Morrow, a principal at M3 Wave Energy in Salem, are content with a long-term vision. M3 Wave Energy is testing a submerged power device that won’t hit the water soon. Any delay in the state’s ocean zoning plan gives his company more time to network with other ocean users, whose support he views as key to their success.

“I couldn’t take a map and put a bunch of pennies on the places that we would like to develop because there are just so many things that we don’t know yet,” says Morrow.

DLCD’s Klarin is keenly aware that some wave-energy companies are still developing technology. And that some will never have a successful water launch, like Vancouver, B.C.-based Finavera Renewables, which sank a buoy off the coast of Lincoln City before changing its name to Finavera Wind Energy in February and concentrating efforts elsewhere. Klarin notes that ocean energy companies also face hurdles in raising capital, building infrastructure and competing with other power sources, many of them cheaper.

“That’s why I don’t feel an urgency to get something done tomorrow,” says Klarin. “Our plan will be sitting around waiting for all that stuff to happen for quite a while.”

Klarin is also frustrated with developers’ approach to Oregon. “They want fast-track easy [permits]," a lower bar on environmetal reviews and regulations, and subsidies. In summary, he says, their message to the state has been, “Give us a free hand and all the money in the world and maybe we’ll do something that will benefit you.”

Yet recent activity from Oregon’s most successful wave-energy developer and also the least encumbered, OPT, shows that waiting poses real risks to jobs and economic health by stifling opportunity in an industry that clearly has room to grow.

Well capitalized from its first public offering in 2007, OPT recently contracted with Oregon Iron Works for a multimillion-dollar project to build its first 200-ton buoy. Though the contract amount was not disclosed, Bob Lurie, vice president of North America for Business Development, says it created 35 jobs at Oregon Iron Works. Once built, the buoy will need two other Oregon companies — American Bridge and Sauce Brothers — to moor, deploy and maintain it.

The project ties OPT to Oregon for a long while. But with buoys already in the water in Hawaii and other projects in the works in Scotland, Japan and Australia, OPT illustrates how wave energy companies can and do operate in the most inviting markets.

“We can say that we’ve been impressed with the earnest effort that the state is making to try to accommodate wave energy and also work with all the stakeholders to make sure it is being done in a responsible way,” says Lurie.

Though OPT will not be affected by delays in planning, he says, the goal of state planning was to create a process for developing ocean energy, something continued delays fail to offer.

Oregon House co-speaker Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay/Florence) says capturing the wave-energy industry remains a high priority for Oregon, as evident in the years of planning and tremendous energy directed at forming OWET. He says it’s important to have a clear understanding of current ocean users as energy opportunities are planned for, and to protect all ocean stakeholders moving forward.

“As we embark on the final stages of the sea-mapping plan,” he says, “I am confident we can address the issues raised and we’ll continue to work to keep this new industry as a vital part of Oregon’s future.”



 

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