Oregon wave power project gets green light to go forward

Oregon wave power project gets green light to go forward
This is a photo of a PowerBuoy deployed off the coast of Scotland. According to the company, Oregon's will look the same. (Photo courtesy: Ocean Power Technologies Inc. Used with permission)

Wave power developers planning a project off the Oregon Coast now have the nation's only federal permit to develop a commercial wave power park.

Ocean Power Technologies Inc., based in Pennington, N.J., said Monday it will deploy the first buoy for testing sometime this year off Reedsport.

Charles Dunleavy, CEO of the publicly held company, said it hopes to have the country's first commercial wave power park online within two or three years of securing full financing.

The project will include 10 buoys anchored 2 1/2 miles off the coast and covering about 30 acres. They will produce 1.5 megawatts — enough to power about 1,000 homes. An undersea cable will carry the power to a site slated for the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and connect to the grid at a substation in Gardiner.

Belinda Batten, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Facility and a professor of mechanical energy at Oregon State University, said the Ocean Power facility is small by European standards but presents a big step forward in development of alternative energy from the ocean in the U.S.

The Oregon Coast has become a hotspot for wave power research and development. Waves are bigger on the West Coast than the East Coast by virtue of the prevailing westerly winds, and waves get bigger the farther they are from the equator, Batten said.

She noted that Atmocean Inc., in Santa Fe, N.M., plans to test three buoys this year off Coos Bay; the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Facility last weekend towed out to sea near Newport the nation's first publicly available wave power test facility, called Ocean Sentinel; a wave power generator from New Zealand is to be towed out to the test facility this week; and Oregon State is looking for a site to build a larger grid-connected test facility known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center, which would be patterned after the European Marine Energy Center in Scotland.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the 35-year permit to Ocean Power last week. A conditional permit issued for a project in Makah Bay, Wash., was returned in 2007, the agency said.

The first buoy is being built by companies in Oregon, including Oregon Ironworks in Clackamas, Vigor Marine in Portland, and American Bridge in Gardiner. Ocean Power hopes to put the buoy in the Willamette River this fall, and tow it to the site off Reedsport, Dunleavy said.

The cylindrical buoy harnesses the power of the ocean's waves through a float encircling it. The float goes up and down with the water while the buoy remains relatively stable. That motion is transferred to turning a generator, which produces electricity.

The final cost of the project is not determined, Dunleavy said. The company has a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, $420,000 from the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative, and a state business energy tax credit worth $900,000.

Ocean Power previously built the nation's first wave power project off Hawaii, Dunleavy said. It operated two years for the U.S. Navy, before being decommissioned last January.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

The size of a PowerBuoy, seen here sitting on a dock in Scotland, is evident by comparing the size of the employee, right, to the buoy. The company says Oregon's will look exactly the same. (Photo courtesy: Ocean Power Technologies Inc. Used with permission)