The Oregon Coast is a priceless treasure. It is sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and gigantic sand dunes. The Pacific Ocean provides crashing waves, beautiful sunsets, recreational spaces, and a variety of seafood. However, a controversy is growing – should Oregon devote its coast to the production of wave energy?
Oregonians love spending time at the coast. We flock there on weekends, causing traffic jams on Highways 26 and 101. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy our coast. Since 2004, when a 1% hotel occupancy tax went into effect to fund Travel Oregon, the state tourism commission, Oregon has gone from 47th in the nation to 26th for tourism budgets. There are so many international visitors that Lincoln City put up banners that say “Welcome” in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.
Quietly, a new industry has been growing that may have dramatic impact on the Oregon Coast.
A whole group of agencies and non-profits have grown up since 2000: The Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the Oregon Innovation Council, Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (a cooperative effort of Oregon State University and the University of Washington), Pacific Marine Energy Center, the Ocean Policy Advisory Council, and many others. More than $15 million has been spent on developing wave energy since 2006. These diverse enterprises are working toward building wave energy converters off the Oregon Coast.
The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center wants a piece of ocean one square mile in size, two miles northwest of Yaquina Head. Aquamarine Power applied for the use of 7,000 acres along the Oregon coast in order to discover what might be the best location for a converter, which is 70 feet deep by 1,400 feet long and rises over three stories above the ocean.
Ocean Power Technologies has plans for several sites, the first of which is already under construction off Reedsport. Located 2 ½ miles off the coast, it will contain ten PowerBuoys, an underwater substation, and a submarine cable to deliver power to the Pacific Northwest electric grid. The projection is that this will produce enough power to supply 375 homes (4,140 MegaWatt-hours/year). The buoy will be 140 feet long and 40 feet wide, with a 30-foot float.
Pressure to find alternative sources of energy come from many sources. Two of these are the fact that Oregon’s Renewable Energy Action Plan calls for 25% of the energy used in the state be from renewable sources by 2025, and another is the fact that the price of oil continues to escalate.
Wave energy conversion is in its infancy; regulations, permits, and policies are just being developed. Knowledge of how it will impact the environment is limited. There are concerns that the electromagnetic fields of the converters will disorient migratory birds and animals. What effect will the converters have on housing and tourism? How will the converters effect fishing, clamming, and crabbing. Those in favor of wave energy conversion are pushing to make the process move more quickly. Diverse opposing groups are trying to slow process to allow time for a more orderly progression.
There is no agreement at this point on where the converters will be placed. Just as the companies that want to place converters off the coast are scrambling to get their claims staked, counties and cities on the coast are struggling to evaluate and rank which sites should be protected. Oregon State University has produced a territorial sea map that concluded that only two percent of the coastal waters are available for wave energy conversion use. The rest of the coastline is used for fishing or has environmental protections.
Wave energy converters will mar the views along the Oregon Coast. Oregonians need to decide quickly, where and how many of these converters we want alone our coast, or if we want them at all.
Article written by Mary Boyer
How Wave Energy Works
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