The Pacific Northwest could soon become a hub of ocean energy technology. An Oregon State University project to set up a wave energy test site is now applying for the federal permits needed to move ahead.
Oregon has some of the best potential in the world to generate energy from the motion of the waves. But developing wave energy technology is an expensive proposition. Not only do you have to build the devices, you also have to test them in the ocean. This takes many years and even more federal and state permits.
Oregon State University project scientist Burke Hales said wave energy technology is about 15 years behind wind.
Part of the reason, he said, is "because there are no utility scale, open wave test facilities for this. No developer would build a device that couldn’t be tested."
Hales said the university wants to help the fledgling technology get into the water faster. It’s proposing to set up the infrastructure for a 2-square-mile, grid-connected test plot off the central Oregon coast. Companies would pay to test up to 20 devices at a time.
Hales said there are currently two small-scale, grid-connected, wave energy test facilities operating — one by the U.S. Navy in Hawai’i and the other near Scotland. Oregon State University also operates a non-grid-connected test site further north along the coast.
But he said the current project has the potential to be by far the largest and most versatile test facility in the world.
“Hopefully this project will showcase the technology and prove that it's an economic source of energy for us moving forward,” said Justin Klure, a project consultant with Pacific Energy Ventures.
Klure said the university worked with local communities and fishermen for several years to decide where to site the test facility.
The projected cost is $50 million, $35 million of which would come from the U.S. Department of Energy. The rest will come from the state, the university and as-yet-unidentified private investors.
The permitting process will take more than a year to complete. There will be several opportunities for public input, including a 90-day comment period open starting April 24. Project developers hope to have the test site operational by 2022.