Friday, December 4, 2009

Eco-nomics: Wave Energy in Oregon

From the New York Times, a story on efforts to get a wave energy project going in Oregon:

Oregon is moving ahead with plans for the nation’s first commercial wave energy station.

On Friday morning New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies announced that it has contracted with Oregon Iron Works to start building what it hopes will become a 10-buoy test system in the waters off Reedsport, Ore.

“We’re thrilled to be underway,” said Mark Draper, O.P.T.’s chief executive, in a telephone interview before the announcement. “We hope this is just the beginning of a new phase in capturing a major source of renewable energy.”

Mr. Draper said that the first buoy is expected to deploy in a year. Two years after that, nine more buoys should go into the water. The fully deployed, $60 million system is expected to have a capacity of 1.5 megawatts — about half that of a single giant wind turbine (though the waves should be able to provide plenty of power around the clock, unlike the intermittent wind). Mr. Draper said his company expects to develop a much larger wave farm nearby that could have as many as 200 buoys.

The project will sit 2.5 miles offshore, and connect to a Bonneville Power Administration substation. It is being paid for with a combination of funds from O.P.T., as well as federal dollars, Oregon tax breaks and money from an electric company, PNGC Power, which has agreed to purchase the power for its customers in Douglass County, Ore. Mr. Draper said that he hoped to sell the power at 15 cents per kilowatt-hour — which, he said, is comparable to other renewables except for wind (which is cheaper).

However, getting working wave-power projects into the water is no easy feat. A wave-power device from another company, Finavera, sank off the Oregon coast two years ago. In California, state regulators last rejected a wave power project (also Finavera’s), saying that the technology was “pre-commercial” and that the “contract price is not reasonable.” The world’s furthest-along wave project, off the coast of Portugal, ran into financial difficulties earlier this year.

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