COOS BAY — Should the South Coast welcome another wave energy park off its shores?

Oregon State University is looking for a place to build an industrial-scale, grid-connected wave energy test facility somewhere along the Oregon Coast where private companies can test buoy technology.

Wave energy science is still in its infancy, but researchers say its potential for power generation is huge. Private companies are racing to develop the best technology to harness wave power.

They need standardized, reliable methods to test a buoy's durability, efficiency and impact on marine life, said Belinda Batten, director of OSU's Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, the group that plans to build the test facility.

Community forum

In a community forum Thursday night, Batten and her fellow researchers asked Coos Bay whether it would welcome the Pacific Marine Energy Center test site here.

Such a site could span up to two nautical miles. It would house equipment to measure energy from buoys, and transport power to shore.

'OSU's role in this is to be the voice of science and engineering," Batten said. She added, the facility would seek to balance energy production with its effects on marine life and ocean users.

The site could create local jobs and industries, and Coos Bay has some existing industry and infrastructure ready.

But not all local groups welcome the new venture.

Dungeness danger

The best sites for wave buoys are frequently prime Dungeness crab habitat, said Nick Furman, director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

The South Coast has about 30 square miles of crab habitat accessible to Charleston-based crabbers. Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey wave energy company, already has claimed 30 acres of that to build a wave energy park off Reedsport.

Taking any more crabbing area for wave energy projects would harm local fishermen further, Furman said.

'That puts a lot of burden on one fishery," Furman said.

'We feel it is far more equitable if it is spread up and down the coast."

Ready or not

But wave energy will come to the West Coast whether the center builds its test facility here or not, Batten said. The world needs alternatives to fossil fuels, and waves produce enormous amounts of untapped, renewable power that is less intermittent than other renewable energy options.

Furthermore, the Oregon Coast is one of the world's best locations to harness wave power.

Wave's are generated by wind, which tends to blow from west to east, circling the globe. As such, waves also move from west to east, gathering strength as they go. Thus, west coasts see the strongest waves.

The center already has built several wave buoy test tanks where developers can conduct initial tests.

Into the ocean

'Once they graduate from the wave tank, they want to go to the ocean," Batten said.

Several companies run tests independently, she said. But it is difficult to gauge independent results because their data-collection methods vary.

Scotland has an ocean test facility that many developers use. But its marine wildlife and wave strength differ from Oregon's, Batten said.

The Marine Renewable Energy Center does operate a small-scale, wave buoy test facility off Newport, the only public ocean test site in the U.S. That facility is mobile -- not grid connected -- and can't accommodate industrial-size buoys.

The Pacific Marine Energy Center is the next step, Batten said.

4 cities to 2 to 1

The OSU center plans to build the roughly $25 million test site in part with a grant from the Department of Energy. It still seeks other funding options.

Besides Coos Bay, the center also is considering potential sites off Reedsport, Newport or Camp Rilea.

In the coming weeks, it will identify two of the four proposed cities for serious consideration. Representatives from those two communities will form committees to identify potential sites and funding options.

'It is going to be a gut call at some point," Batten said.

The final site will be selected at the end of the year.

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or jhiggins@theworldlink.com.

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