Feds clearing path for Pacific wave energy test

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department is sending out a feeler for companies interested in harnessing wave power off the Pacific Northwest before allowing a Oregon State University project to advance.

Companies that might want to pursue wave energy projects in the region will have until late June to file expressions of interest with the federal government.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is publishing a formal “notice of potential research” in the Federal Register on March 24.

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The move is designed to test the waters for broader commercial interest in wave energy research and development off the Oregon coast, where OSU’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center hopes to establish a hydrokinetic energy facility for testing utility scale wave power systems.

If there is enough interest, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management could launch a competitive process for leasing the region; otherwise, it could issue a lease to the OSU project on a non-competitive basis.

OSU’s proposed Pacific Marine Energy Center – South Energy Test Site would support up to 10 megawatts of electricity generation from an assortment of devices, both individual equipment and small-scale arrays. A subsea cable would connect the project to the onshore electric grid.

It would be located about four miles off Newpore, Ore., in up to 230 feet of water.

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Bureau director Tommy Beaudreau said this is “an important milestone in siting a national grid-connected research facility to support the testing of commercial-scale marine hydrokinetic devices.”

The move fits in with the Obama administration’s broader support for wind power research. The Energy Department is spending millions on some 17 projects nationwide, including wave energy research conducted by Texas A&M University.

The ocean energy bureau has used a similar process before advancing other renewable energy research projects. For instance, in February, the path was cleared for a project to test floating wind energy technology off Coos Bay, Ore., when the bureau determined there was no competitive interest in the area.