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State may Ride Crest of a New Energy Wave

by Winston Ross, Staff Writer
The Register-Guard, February 21, 2007

"Bonneville is a very cheap source of power," Winkel said. "But there's only so much of it.
As demand grows, the demand for that power can exceed what Bonneville is capable of providing."

BANDON - Prospectors are flocking to the coast to stake claims, and governments are scrambling to lock down their authority to say what goes where.

A modern-day gold rush? In a way, yes.

The Oregon Coast's next big economic boom may have nothing to do with timber, real estate or fishing. But it will rely on Oregon's greatest natural resource: the Pacific Ocean.

Bandon is the latest coastal city to barter with one of a handful of companies hoping to build a wave energy park offshore one day. Most of the state's seven coastal counties are asking the federal government to let locals decide where electricity-generating buoys will be located.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proposed more than $5 million for additional wave energy research and promotion in Oregon. And Oregon State University researcher Annette von Jouanne is on her sixth prototype buoy, capable of producing 15 percent more power than the first one she designed.

Assuming federal authorities approve the myriad permits needed to float one of von Jouanne's contraptions in the sea, the nation's first electricity-generating buoy could bob off the shores of Gardiner at International Paper's defunct mill site by this summer.

"It's an exciting opportunity to create some family-wage jobs on the Oregon Coast," said Onno Husing, executive director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association, which advocates for coastal governments. "Each day, global consumption of oil alone is 28 million barrels. Clearly we have a duty for the environment, for national security, for a host of reasons, to do everything we can to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels."

Bandon owns its own electric system, and City Manager Matt Winkel contacted British Columbia-based Finavera Renewables to see if the company would build a wave energy park in Bandon and supply the city with electricity.

Finavera representatives agreed. They estimate that, at full capacity, the company could supply 100 megawatts of continuous power - enough for 13 Bandons. There's no word yet on whether the energy would be cheaper than power bought from the Bonneville Power Administration. But the city pays Bonneville not just for the product but also the delivery of it. Tapping directly into the town's substation means no transportation costs. Plus, the city can tax Finavera for locating off its coast.

"It's really a locally grown resource," said Anne Morrow, account executive for the BPA. "The wave is closer to the load, so it doesn't have some of the transmission problems we have."

Here's how wave energy works: a buoy, bobbing in the ocean, picks up electromagnetic energy with the rising and falling of the swell. The buoy is anchored to the seafloor via a tethered system that delivers that energy downward and then to the coast along cables.

And that's how Bandon could become one of the country's first towns to wean itself from the energy grid of old.

"Bonneville is a very cheap source of power," Winkel said. "But there's only so much of it. As demand grows, the demand for that power can exceed what Bonneville is capable of providing."

California's energy crisis

When California's energy crisis hit five years ago Bonneville ran out of power and had to buy it on the open market for exorbitant prices, Morrow said.

"We became the elephant in the market," she said, meaning electricity suppliers could gouge Bonneville knowing that they had nowhere else to turn. "We had to buy a fair amount of energy to supply our contracted loads."

To avoid that happening in the future, Bonneville is working on an "allocation" system that may transfer the responsibility for finding new power sources during supply crunches to the local utilities. Having an alternate energy source protects Bandon from that possibility.

Wave energy could also help Bonneville comply with Kulongoski's renewable portfolio standard, which requires that 25 percent of Oregon's energy come from new renewable sources by 2025. The requirement applies to electric utilities serving at least 1 percent of Oregon's power load, including the three investor-owned electric utilities and the nine largest consumer-owned utilities.

That's partly why Lincoln County became the first Oregon Coast government to request control over the siting of wave energy buoys from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, a move other coastal counties quickly copied.

The idea is to make sure that the buoys aren't landed in sensitive fishing grounds, Lincoln County commissioner Terry Thompson said. Thompson envisions the county selecting sites after building consensus with the fishing industry and conservationists, then recruiting wave energy companies to build parks in those areas.

"We're definitely trying to make Lincoln County the most appealing place for research and development," Thompson said. "But we're also not willing to give up a $100 million fishing industry to do it."

That shouldn't be necessary, Husing said. There's little dispute that the research buoys under development should move forward, if for no other reason than to study their impacts on the environment.

"Right now, the conservation community is extremely supportive of this. It clearly falls into the renewable energy category and reducing fossil fuel emissions. When the rubber is going to hit the road is when these things scale up to commercial-sized wave farms," Husing said.

That's where researchers like von Juoanne come in. She has asked for $3 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a national wave energy research demonstration center to be housed at OSU, along with a separate facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, to continue the study of how to harness the ocean's power in the most environmentally friendly and productive way.

Winston Ross
State may Ride Crest of a New Energy Wave
The Register-Guard, February 21, 2007

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