Oregon commercial wave energy project sinks

Buoy built at company's Vancouver facility

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Although Ocean Power Technologies is walking away from a wave energy project off the coast of Reedsport, Ore., the company that built most of Ocean Power’s first buoy — and that did most of the construction work at its Vancouver facility — says it sees strong potential in the ocean energy sector.

“Oregon Iron Works is disappointed with OPT’s decision to withdraw from deploying buoys off the Oregon Coast, but we are excited about the industry looking to deploy wave energy buoys here,” Tom Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, said in an email to The Columbian on Monday.

The Clackamas, Ore.-based company is a manufacturer of complex structural components, systems and specialized vehicles.

“We are also looking at the offshore wind industry and the great potential it brings to this region,” Hickman said. “We see a lot of potential in the ocean energy sector.”

Plans to deploy Oregon’s first commercial wave energy project have been formally dropped by the company.

After spending millions on the project off the coast of Reedsport, Ore., Ocean Power Technologies pulled the plug and will focus on another project in Australia.

Kevin Watkins, a company representative, said this would have actually been the first such project in the Western Hemisphere but they had trouble securing adequate funds.

“In consultation with the Department of Energy, OPT has made the decision to terminate further work on the project and initiate decommission and close-out activities,” Watkins said.

This was the only wave energy project planned for Oregon state waters that had even begun the permitting phase, according to Paul Klarin, marine Program Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

The company’s wave energy projects generated national headlines in the run-up to a planned launch in October, 2012. But after it delayed the deployment of its first buoy, the project seemed to be stuck on hold.

The larger piece of the much-anticipated project would have placed a flotilla of 100 energy-producing buoys, each the size of a school bus, in the waves off the coast of Reedsport, Ore.

But that component was abandoned in March. This smaller project, made up of ten smaller buoys, was the last remaining piece.

The first buoy designed to gather wave energy remains at a shipbuliding lot on Portland’s Swan Island. Jason Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, says the company should donate it to them as a farewell gesture.

“It’s an amazing piece of equipment and it’s a shame it may never be deployed. At this point, I doubt it will,” Busch said.

The company hasn’t released the amount spent on the wave energy project, nor the number of jobs that would have been associated with it but Busch estimates the investment to be at least $10 million.

“They spent a lot of money on that project at Reedsport,” Busch said. “Building that buoy, getting through the permitting process, all the environmental studies that have been done out here.”

The Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which is a private, nonprofit organization funded by Oregon Lottery dollars, invested around $430,000 in state funds on the project.

“This is a disappointment on many fronts; there’s been a lot of efforts and hopes put on that project. It has become, rightly or wrongly, sort of a proxy for the industry,” Busch added.

Nevertheless, Busch says Oregon saw a return on its investment in terms of the company’s reinvestment in local businesses.

And he says the regulatory processes for future projects could go smoother, with Ocean Power Technologies having already gone through it — though it would still take at least three to five years.

The state of Oregon has adopted zoning rules to allow for wave and wind energy development at the Reedsport location and elsewhere in its territorial waters off the coast.

Even though his company may no longer be leading the charge in West Coast wave energy, Ocean Power Technologies’ Watkins says, “I think it has real value as a future source of generating electricity for this region.”

An anchor for the project remains on the ocean floor off the Oregon Coast. The company plans to decommission it this summer after whale migration season ends.