Wind, Tides Hold Economic
by Jeff Chew
SEQUIM BAY -- Wind and tides are potential windfalls for the North Olympic Peninsula, says the director of the Sequim Marine Research Operation for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The development, construction and deployment of tidal and offshore wind energy generators offer huge economic potential, said Charlie Brandt, the lab's top executive officer.
Brandt and Port of Port Angeles Executive Director Jeff Robb both said the port has the facilities to build offshore wind turbines with components so large they have to be close to the coast for barging out to sea.
"One of the blades is the size of one to two football fields," Brandt said, explaining that because of their massive size they must be built close to where they can be barged to sea for final installation.
With a goal of making 25 percent of all energy supplies renewable, Brandt said the easiest energy source to development is wind energy.
But wind energy comes with drawbacks on land -- the effect of facilities on views, noise and possible threats to birds and bats.
That is why interest in developing offshore wind farms is growing, especially since offshore winds are steady and at higher speeds than those on land.
Shoreline winds are buffeting and unpredictable, often coming to a standstill for weeks at a time.
"Offshore wind is not bothering anybody or any on-shore birds," Brandt said.
"Available offshore winds [supply] is four times the U.S. energy demand."
The offshore wind mills would be placed on platforms similar to those used for offshore oil drilling.
With China's growth as a major energy producer in both renewable and traditional sources such as coal, it is imperative that the U.S. steps up its efforts to produce its own alternative sources before China controls the energy market, Brandt said.
He added that, if energy prices go up in general, the long price barrier that has slowed renewable energy development in the U.S. will no longer be an issue.
"You've got this demand in coastal zones," where about 52 percent of the U.S. population is concentrated, Brandt said.
"So if we generate power close to where we use it, you don't have to building huge [power] grid structures, " he added.
Robb said the port has an open dialogue with Brandt when it comes to developing ocean energy "and we're looking at every opportunity.
"We would be interested in supporting any of that industry because it creates jobs in our community," Robb added.
Likewise, the Sequim City Council has adopted as one of its top priorities making Sequim a leader in renewable energy sources.
Sequim also is in the process of annexing the lab site into its limits to provide sewer and water service to the lab, which now uses its own septic system that is fast reaching capacity, and a well for drinking water.
Responding to the city's move, Brandt said, "Besides being producers of [research and development] we need to be producers of technology, deployers of technology and maintainers of technology."
Oregon is ahead of Washington state when it comes to renewable energy, and California has set the highest goal for that type of energy production on the West Coast, Brandt said.
Robb said it is a shame that Europe is now ahead of the U.S. in the development and deployment of offshore wind energy.
Indeed, the Thanet Wind Farm, an offshore wind farm about seven miles off the coast of Thanet district in Kent, England, put 100 wind mills into full operation last month, according to www.Technorati.com.
"I think we already have the assets ready to deploy it," Robb said, referring to the port's shipping dock facility.
"It would just take some slight tweaking."
Robb said the port's strategic plan has an alternative energy components and development of renewable energy systems "is in line with our strategic plan."
Having a work force with crafts skills and marine capability, a port "closer to places of deployments than any place in Puget Sound," Brandt said the existing assets were available to move forward into the offshore wind and tidal energy industry on the North Olympic Peninsula.
"We're sitting on the resource. We've got the workforce, we've got Peninsula College, this lab and [Clallam County] PUD that can switch to become an exporter of energy," Brandt said.
"It's hard to find an economic boat around here that wouldn't be lifted by a renewable energy approach."
Citing Angeles Composite Technologies Inc., in Port Angeles, which builds aerospace components, Brandt said, "We've got the components here, and a port that has the space to build here, unlike Seattle or Tacoma."
Brandt said the Sequim Marine Sciences Lab plans to double its staff, now at 95, and quadruple its space in the next 10 years.
The facility off West Sequim Bay Road has about 6,000 square feet of dry lab in the uplands portion of its low-profile site, and an aquatic lab of about 8,000 square feet.
The lab was located on 140 acres of property that includes the former Robb farm and the Bugge Cannery. It includes part of Travis Spit and extends across the channel leading into Sequim Bay.
Brandt acknowledged that the lab has a lot of space to grow, but he said the shoreline lab space would add a second floor to avoid expanding out of its existing footprint.
The lab, which is commonly called Battelle, falls under the Battelle Memorial Institute's nonprofit umbrella.
The institute was founded in 1929 as a result of a sizable bequest in the will of successful Ohio metallurgist Gordon Battelle to establish science for the benefit of mankind.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratories' Sequim Marine Sciences Lab is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy, Brandt explained.
Tuesday: The Sequim Marine Research Operation for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory conducts experiments to understand how tidal turbines would affect sea life.
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