Ore. Wave energy project stirs competing concerns
The Associated Press
FLORENCE, Ore. (AP) — Australian plans to build a wave energy project off the coast of Florence are caught between the lure of clean energy and fears of an onshore platform jungle.
Some envision small buoys on par with the ones that mark crab pots.
But the ones Oceanlinx Limited has in mind more resemble oil rigs, 330 tons, rising 23 feet above the water, far different from those proposed for similar energy projects along the coast.
Oceanlinx plans to spread 10 of the buoys from a half mile offshore to three miles out.
"They're like small oil platforms," said Gus Gates of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation and a local activist.
Surfrider filed a motion to intervene last week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will rule on the Oceanlinx permit.
The group joined the city of Florence, the Port of Siuslaw, the Siuslaw Fishermen's Association and Lincoln County.
Oceanlinx would transmit the energy it generates to the grid via undersea cables.
The offshore structures will be made of an oscillating water column and wave chamber, turbine and electric generator. According to a federal application, the project is based on a principal called the "oscillating water column."
A vertical water column or chamber is partly submerged and fixed to the ocean floor.
As the waves bob up and down, the water level within the chamber rises and falls, causing air flow across a turbine that drives a generator.
It is, essentially, air power.
Some of the buoys proposed along the coast consist of hydraulic mechanisms that transfer energy from the bobbing of waves into a mechanical form and then into an electrical form.
It isn't known which is the more efficient.
Skeptics fear the Florence proposal will impact the fishing industry and tourist industries and the prized sunsets.
"That's kind of the hub of surfing in Lane County," Gates said. "But there are also fishing grounds impacted, gray whales that could become entangled, kiteboarders."
Opponents don't oppose the project per se.
They like the idea of clean, renewable energy and say it might actually help re-establish fish populations by keeping away some segments of the fishing industry, such as trawlers, which can harm the nearshore ecosystem.
He worries that the wave energy movement is moving ahead too fast and wonders what Florence stands to gain or lose.
"We're kind of jumping the gun here," Gates said. "Why should we give up our ocean, our activity, if it doesn't benefit us? If could be great if it's done small, well-planned, conservatively. But how many jobs is this going to create?"
Port commission member Joshua Greene feels it could create thousands of jobs statewide but supports the port's motion to intervene because it gives the agency "a seat at the table."
"I'm very pro-wave energy from an environmentalist point of view, but I think it could also be an incredible opportunity for the state to develop economic strength," Greene said.
He envisions smaller platforms, and buoys manufactured up the Siuslaw River that can be shipped over the river bar.
"You know what that does to Florence? That's like bringing logging back. The tonnage across the bar solves your dredging problems and creates a few hundred jobs."
By dredging, Greene means the federal funds the port fights for each year to maintain a safe navigation channel. Without a certain amount of commercial movement across the river bar, it's harder to get federal funds.
Mark Lull, president of the Siuslaw Fishermen's Association, has different concerns.
"These units are in prime crab country and salmon trolling area," Lull said. "With the rope and chain to the anchors, the footprint of these platforms is large. You can't troll through that area, you can't dump crab pots in that area. Everything will tangle with the anchors."
Oceanlinx expects to apply for a license in three years.ret wave or orbas wao orol
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