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January 20th, 2011
While other alternative energy enthusiasts chase the wind and sun, Jason Busch is counting on the motion of the ocean. Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, says the state’s waves are attracting European technology companies and homegrown wave energy start-ups.
These wave pioneers have their work cut out for them, Busch said, as they make their way through uncharted state and federal regulatory waters. But he believes Oregon is uniquely positioned to capture the U.S. wave energy market.
“Some places have better waves, like Alaska, but they lack other things like a grid system that can absorb the power, manufacturers that can build the technology, and easy access to ports,” Busch said. “We are one of a few places in the world that can support wave energy.”
DJC: What do you consider the largest barriers to more wave energy development in Oregon?
Jason Busch: No state agency in the U.S has ever permitted a wave energy project. They are in that process now and it’s a steep learning curve. Once one or two buoys are in the water, it will be easier to proceed. There will be more understanding around potential impacts to the environment. (OWET) has spent a fair amount of its budget developing baseline data to compare before and after wave energy devices are deployed and figure out what the impacts are. The Oregon approach of bringing people to the table and having a public process is a slow, arduous process. But it’s our way and it’s ultimately the best way to proceed.
DJC: What will OWET watch in the Legislature this year?
Busch: One key bill is the feed-in tariff bill sponsored by Tobias Read. We’re keen to see how that plays out, but given the legislative environment, we’re cautiously optimistic. Another important bill comes from Rep. Deborah Boone, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘no dead fish rule.’ Wave energy projects fall under regulations for hydropower. To prevent impacts to salmon and migrating fish, you have to demonstrate you won’t harm fish. While ocean energy is regulated as hydropower, arguably, the dead fish rule doesn’t apply. We have to get an exemption from that. The Business Energy Tax Credit is important this year. Wave energy is at a relatively early stage so most companies haven’t paid attention to it. But those of us who have been around renewable energy recognize BETC’s industry impact.
DJC: Why have wave energy projects fallen under regulation for hydroelectric projects, and how does this complicate the regulatory process?
Busch: Of the existing systems, hydro licensing was the logical place for it to fall. (The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has authority over nonfederal hydro. To build projects within three miles of the coast, an area known as the territorial sea, you need a license from FERC to hook up to the electrical transmission system, but other licenses or leases are administered through the state. Outside of the three miles, you’re in the outer continental shelf. Site leases there are granted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. But you need the FERC license as well. That’s two major federal actions, which triggers a higher level of regulatory review. Add the state permitting requirements to those federal permits, and that’s why, right now, everyone is looking at closer-in projects.
DJC: What is the status of Ocean Power Technologies’ pilot wave energy project in Reedsport?
Busch: OPT is moving towards a summer deployment. It’s one buoy, and it won’t be hooked up to the grid. It’s a psychological thing at this point. We’ve talked about wave energy for so long and there has been so much vitriol over it. It’s all speculation until we get in the water. The second phase of the project will put another nine buoys in the water. The regulatory process for that has taken longer than anticipated. If these 10 buoys can be deployed in the next couple years, they would be the first wave energy devices to be connected to the grid. If, and when, OPT is issued (its) permits, the second person coming in to develop the project may have an easier job of it.
DJC: Have any other companies expressed interest in deploying projects here?
Busch: We’re competing with a handful of countries. The United Kingdom is one. They spend a lot more money (on wave energy development), around a billion dollars over the last 10 years. We’re playing catch-up. When the U.S. does something, we’re good at it, and the UK knows that, which is why there are a number of UK companies on the ground here. Aquamarine is a Scottish company with a technology called The Oyster; (it) just opened an office in Newport. We also have Scandinavian companies like Floating Power Plant. Norway’s Wave Energy A/S is on the ground in Tillamook looking at a jetty-based device. And this all happened last year. You need companies on the ground with different technologies. Not all of them will succeed, so we want to see a variety of opportunities.