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Daily Astorian: Groups Set Stage For Wave Energy Collaboration

Leaders in wave energy technology, elected officials and fishermen have expressed high hopes for collaboration as Oregon moves forward with the testing of devices that provide renewable energy in coastal waters.

Connecting locals with industry and inspiring collaboration was the theme Wednesday at the eighth annual Ocean Renewable Energy Conference, which was held at the Liberty Theater in Astoria.

The conference was a chance for companies, elected leaders and stakeholders to network and discuss the issue. Local educational and business interests were on hand to promote regional opportunities.

Kristen Wilkin, dean of workforce education with Clatsop Community College, said CCC is positioned to provide wave energy companies access to its Forerunner research vessel for deploying proposed wave energy devices.

“We’re promoting rental of our vessel and we’re just here to show the resources that we have,” she said. Companies could be interested in having their staff take courses in safety training or maritime science with the college as well, Wilkin added.

She said the college also can connect companies with maritime science students, whom they might like to hire.

Business park

The North Coast Business Park in Warrenton is poised to attract the attention of manufacturing and technology development. The park is zoned for industrial use. Diane Peterson, the listing agent for the property on behalf of Clatsop County, attended the conference to answer any questions and network with technology companies. She said a developer is being sought first.

“Ideally we’re looking for a developer who will come in and kind of put the whole thing together,” she said.

For several years, Oregon has been developing state and regional standards for possible wave energy test sites off the Oregon Coast. The state’s Territorial Sea Plan was revised over a five year process with the intention of wave energy devices being placed in near shore waters. It was adopted by the Land Conversation and Development Commission in January. The revisions allow for four test sites along the Oregon Coast, including an 11-square-mile section off of Camp Rilea in Warrenton. In the same month, Newport was selected for the Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC), a grid-connected test facility.

Now, with the framework in place to test technology, leaders urged developers to continue to work with stakeholders and the coastal communities.

What is needed

Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson said every Oregon coastal community is different and companies wanting to test or eventually install equipment need to find out what the fishing industry and tourist industry needs.

For energy companies, Thompson said there has to be trust between the local residents and them. “Make sure whatever you say stays credible,” he said. “Things change, but make sure communication is happening back and forth with that community.”

Thompson, an owner and operator of commercial fishing vessels, told the audience that fishermen work by trust. “You’ve got to build up trust with these guys,” he said.

Thompson also said there are plenty of people who want to be involved, but companies have to prove their technology works, that there’s no major biological impacts, and that they’re not living on grants. He said the durability and maintainability of devices is also going to be important.

The sites where testing will be conducted are diverse in weather conditions and topography. Wave energy converters can range from a buoy moving with the waves and harnessing energy to a device on the sea floor that is compressed by wave pressure to produce energy.

Adam Brown, an Oregon State University graduate student working on wave energy research, said the four sites are a way to streamline regulation for testing but will not ultimately be permanent commercial sites.

Single-point mooring for buoys are ideal for fishermen who are worried about becoming entangled in a more complex system. However, Brown said it often runs counter with regulations that call for a more secure set-up with at least two-point mooring systems.

“The diverse ideas solve some problems and cause some,” he said about testing. “We don’t know what’s best.”

Columbia Power Technologies had an example of its third-generation StingRAY, which is a buoy device that moves with the waves flapping back and forth to produce energy. The company, with an office in Corvallis, conducted a 13-month trial in Puget Sound.

Fiercely valued

Peter Huhtala, chairman of the Board of Clatsop County Commissioners and a panelist at the conference, said that coastal Oregon may not have a large population, but residents on the coast fiercely value jobs that depend on the sea and the food and enjoyment that the ocean provides.

“Oregon manages the public trust of its territorial sea with a fundamental preference for protecting marine life and sustainable uses,” he said. “As we add another sustainable use, we want to get it right.

“Wave energy will be tapped in Oregon,” he said. “And the stage is set for this to happen in a responsible manner.”

The waves crashing off the coast of Camp Rilea are near prime fishing for Oregon crab fishermen. Lt. Col. Kenneth Safe, construction and facility management officer with the Oregon Military Department, said maintaining and meeting the interests of the community are of utmost importance.

Safe said the military department has and will continue to lead the wave energy effort in Oregon as a state agency. The reason for moving toward energy independence is based on security and the ability to be less vulnerable if other sources are compromised.

Camp Rilea’s water consumption has become sustainable as part of a net-zero initiative, but it is continuing to seek energy independence. The Military Department spends $2 million a year on energy, Safe said.

“We’re confident we will be able to significantly reduce that,” he said. “We have a pretty aggressive goal.” The department is hoping to reduce their energy to zero by 2020 at all 40 installations in Oregon.

“This is something that is of paramount importance to us and we recognize the importance to the state and the community as well,” Safe said.

This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.