The quest to make Camp Rilea energy independent was buoyed last month with the passage of an amendment to the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan.
The amendment cleared the way for wave energy devices to be deployed at four suitable sites along Oregon’s shoreline.
An 11-square-mile section off of Camp Rilea is the largest study area of the four and is considered to be the most favorable, according to Department of Land Conservation and Development.
The potential supply of energy from wave power would allow the base to have a reliable source in the case of a regional disaster and would help them achieve a net-zero energy initiative.
But this section of shoreline is also greatly favored by crab fishermen. Many are based out of the lower Columbia River and use small boats, only allowing them to make short day trips to these prime crabbing grounds.
The impacts on fishing have yet to be determined, but crab fishermen who took part in the development process say that recommendations were ignored.
Development of the amendment
During a three-year review process, government agencies, coastal mayors, county commissioners, fishery advisers and wave energy developers examined how wave energy might be harnessed on the Oregon Coast.
The lengthy process went through committees and councils made up of industry advisers and government officials. They received public input at meetings and work sessions in North Bend, Newport and Astoria.
The Ocean Policy Advisory Council, whose members are appointed by the governor, formulated draft plans, which they submitted to the Territorial Sea Plan Advisory Committee.
Both made similar final recommendations to the Land Conservation and Development Commission. However, the OPAC recommendations differed, placing more emphasis on potential impacts to fishing.
OPAC suggested the Camp Rilea study area only be 4 square miles of territorial sea and the eastern boundary of the study area be one mile from the shore.
The DLCD staff ultimately recommended that three miles out would be the boundary.
On Jan. 24, the Land Conservation and Development Commission adopted the staff’s recommendations, which will now allow for wave energy converters to be tested at the four sites.
The other planned study areas are near Reedsport and Pacific City. Altogether the study areas make up nearly 23 square miles of Oregon’s territorial sea or 2 percent.
Camp Rilea and energy reliability
Camp Rilea is considered a unique and favored site for studying wave energy because of a management area already in place.
As a National Guard training site, the base conducts live-fire exercises. When the range is hot, the base notifies the U.S. Coast Guard and a safety zone is closed off from fishermen and recreational users.
This approach, which allows for compatible use, is envisioned for the shoreline with the introduction of wave energy converters.
Because of the potential for downed power lines, this opportunity for energy independence could allow the base to remain effective as an emergency service provider.
“The base supports emergency responders and provides another layer of services in a regional capacity,” said Col. Christian Reeves, a former post commander at Camp Rilea.
With access to wave energy, Reeves said the base would have better resilience in the case of regional disasters. As the Director of Installations for the Oregon Military Department, Reeves will oversee the introduction of wave energy converters.
Clatsop County’s Emergency Operation Center at the base adds another imperative. Commissioner Chairman Peter Huhtala participated in the planning process on TSPAC as director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association.
“If we do produce electricity on the coast it increases the reliability of available electricity,” he said.
The production of electricity could also help the base achieve a U.S. National Guard initiative that calls for energy consumption to be matched by production. It also calls for responsible water usage.
“We’ve been really successful with the water recycling and minimizing what we draw from the aquifer, said Reeves.
But finding ways to address energy consumption have proven tougher. An initial idea was for the camp to have 400-foot wind turbines harnessing power. But in June that idea was scrapped after finding out that the turbines would have to be nearly half the original size and wouldn’t be cost-effective.
This led to wave energy as a viable solution.
Concerns of crab fishermen
Lt. Col. Kenneth Safe presented the case for wave energy off of Camp Rilea in October. The Astoria meeting was filled with comments about what these devices might do to the local crabbing industry.
Safe said the safe zone for live-fire is a great example of compatible use and can continue with introduction of wave energy devices.
Crab fishermen, however, continue to express concern about potential impacts.
“This is some of the prime Dungeness crab grounds,” said John Corbin, a local crab fishermen and commissioner of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
“We have a large small-boat crab fleet,” he said. “They fish those grounds because they’re close to port.”
He said the grounds are safely located close to home and if the weather becomes hazardous they can get out quickly.
The area off of Camp Rilea has been studied and mapped as a high value area for fishing Dungeness crab.
Scott McMullen, a representative of North Coast Commercial Fishing, said much of the 11-mile study area is in the top 20 percent for crab fishing and some of it is in the top 10 percent.
McMullen worked on the amendment as a member of OPAC. He said the group recommended a smaller study site because of its high value for crab fishermen.
“The commission’s decision didn’t protect those areas as well as OPAC’s (recommendation),” he said. “The staff report is less protective of the fishing industry.”
OPAC modified their recommendations to account for Goal 19, a statewide policy framework for protecting natural resources. Among other precautions, the council surmised that one mile off the coast of Camp Rilea for wave energy would be less intrusive than three.
“I supported OPAC in lowering that down to a smaller size,” said Corbin. “We were a little disappointed when LCDC disregarded everything OPAC did.”
Wave converter devices
It could be several years of testing before a viable system is in place at Camp Rilea. There are several wave energy converters that could be tested at the study site.
Reeves said that no operational plan is developed yet and that it’s purely in the planning process at this point. He said the process would involve talking to developers and looking at a number of devices.
A New Jersey-based company, Ocean Power Technologies, has developed a utility-scale buoy that harnesses wave energy.
They have been planning to launch the device for nearly two years now, but have held back for further testing of the technology. The company plans to set up the buoy off the coast of Reedsport sometime this spring.
M3 Wave Energy Systems produces another type of wave energy converter. The Oregon-based company has developed a device that sits on the ocean floor and responds to water pressure produced by waves.
The set-up off Camp Rilea could include devices near shore, midway and farther out to sea.
The best solution for crab fishing would be a buoy with single-point mooring, which fishermen could go around, said Corbin.
A cautionary approach
Commissioner Huhtala said that, ultimately, the development of wave energy would be a great benefit and wouldn’t harm the environment or the local economy because of precautionary measures in the ammendment.
“The footprint is minimal and this industry can coexist with the fishing industry,” he said.
Safe echoed the need to be careful in development.
“We need to proceed with caution,” he said.
Reeves said that the Oregon Military Department is looking to partner with the local community as they test out what might work.
He said, as a military operation, there is a sense of accountability and that they can “address some of the issues in a transparent matter.”
However, Corbin said that the site’s development might just be one more detrimental blow to the industry.
“Little by little we keep losing more crab grounds,” he said. “All these little bits add up.”
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.