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1st major US wave energy test site moves ahead in Oregon


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1st major US wave energy test site moves ahead in Oregon

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The sun sets on the Pacific Ocean near Newport, Ore., where Oregon State University plans to begin
building a 20-MW wave energy test site this year.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

One of America's last completely untapped renewable energy resources, wave energy, appears on track to be tested with the deployment of a 20-MW demonstration project in federal waters six nautical miles off the coast of Newport, Ore.

After securing a lease from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in February and a 25-year operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in early March (P-14616), Oregon State University plans to begin harnessing the power of the Pacific Ocean as soon as 2022 at the first such U.S. research site.

With President Joe Biden pushing for the country to completely decarbonize its power mix by 2035 to help keep climate change in check, the United States may need to begin developing its wave energy resources. Oregon is a logical place to start, possessing among the most wave energy potential in the continental United States, according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is collaborating on the project.

"This is the first time a lease has been issued to support the testing of wave energy equipment in federal waters off the U.S. West Coast," BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said after the agency approved the research lease. "Ocean waves contain a tremendous amount of energy, and this opportunity offers exciting potential to demonstrate the viability of wave energy technology and expand the nation's renewable energy portfolio."

Pending final construction approval from FERC, OSU plans to begin building the estimated $80 million PacWave South project in the summer of 2021, Project Manager Justin Klure said in a March 12 email. The 2.65-square-mile facility is designed with four separate berths capable of testing up to 20 separate transmission-tied wave energy conversion devices simultaneously.

95-TWh opportunity in Oregon

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Oregon and other public and private partners, PacWave South has been in the works for years. OSU first submitted an unsolicited request for a research lease in October 2013.

Oregon has been considering a major move into ocean energy for more than a decade, including exploring ecological impacts and economic benefits. In a February report, NREL researchers found the state's technical wave energy potential, at 95 TWh per year, "could allow Oregon to be a net exporter of wave-powered electricity." Equal to the power needs of nearly nine million homes, that is 1.5 times more net electricity than Oregonians consumed in 2019, NREL said.

Developers have tried to tap that potential before. Ocean Power Technologies Inc., for instance, in 2012 received a FERC license to install a 1.5-MW system off the coast of Reedsport, Ore., south of Newport, and had planned to expand to 50 MW, but that project fizzled.

With a much deeper pool of project partners, PacWave South appears poised to finally put wave energy to the test in Pacific waters. In addition to NREL, collaborators include the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland, which already operates an open-sea test facility, as well as Scotland-based environmental services firm Aquatera Ltd. and Texas-headquartered 3U Technologies LLC, a specialist in subsea cables.