The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) electrified wave energy proponents with a Jan. 29 order issuing a preliminary permit for a 200- to 400-buoy wave energy project in prime crabbing grounds in the waters off Newport.
The unexpected move jolted everyone, including New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), which first applied for the permit in November 2006 at a time when companies were taking what Lincoln County officials termed a “gold rush” attitude toward securing the best sites. OPT subsequently let the application slide in the wake of opposition, and focused on working with residents farther south to establish a 10-buoy project off Gardiner, and a 200-buoy project off the north Spit at Coos Bay.
Portland-based OPT spokesman Len Bergstein said the 2006 application “disappeared for awhile” as FERC and others “decided who had jurisdiction.” Bergstein said the south coast projects are OPT’s primary concern.
“We have no plans to move the (Newport) project forward at this time,” he told the News-Times on Tuesday. “We will pull back and focus our attention on the other two projects.”
Still, the announcement by FERC irked Lincoln County officials, who took unprecedented steps in 2005 to stave off such possibilities.
Lincoln County leaders forged a partnership with OSU for a proposed wave energy project off the county’s shoreline near Newport, which is considered one of the prime locations for capturing the ocean’s energy potential.
Commissioners Terry Thompson, Bill Hall, and Don Lindly set a precedent in August 2005, when they unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing County Counsel Wayne Belmont and then Assistant County Counsel Rob Bovett to submit the necessary paperwork to apply to FERC for a preliminary wave energy permit.
The 2006 filing was the largest of its kind, extending the length of the county out to three miles offshore. FERC dismissed the application in April 2008, but Bovett said the filing served its main purpose to provide surge protection in the waters off county shores.
The primary purpose was “to help protect the county during a time when there was no federal standard for ocean wave energy development” and thus no way to fend off an anticipated “gold rush of permit applications” by private companies seeking to cash in on the wave of a renewable energy source. A secondary consideration was to highlight county government support for developing wave energy, tempered by insistence on “thoughtful and careful advance planning to reduce and mitigate conflicts with the environment, fisheries, and other important ocean uses.”
The effort highlighted flaws in the federal process, which at the time did not mandate involvement by local stakeholders in siting wave energy projects, and allowed FERC to issue preliminary permits “without anyone making contact with the people who will be most directly impacted.”
Local officials worked diligently to change the federal process, and actively intervened in all permit applications with a potential to impact Lincoln County or its economic interests through Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE) – an advisory committee created in February 2007 – and the Lincoln County Wave Energy Team (LCWET).
As a result, FERC ultimately adopted a strict standard for ocean wave development in 2007, effectively ending the rush for preliminary permits.
Local officials say they zapped it all at the end of January by issuing the preliminary permit in an area with potential to hurt Newport’s crabbing industry.
Bovett said FERC’s unexpected move “violates the memorandum of understanding the agency signed with the state of Oregon.”
In March 2008, agency and state officials signed a memorandum of understanding that requires comprehensive planning before issuing any license for commercial ocean wave energy projects along the Oregon coast, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski issued an executive order directing various state agencies to begin the comprehensive planning process. Under that order, Oregon is amending its Territorial Sea Plan and its Coastal Zone Management Plan to cover the possibility of wave energy facilities, determine whether Oregon’s waters can accommodate them, and if so, where to locate them.
The governor stated his support for “a limited number of small demonstration projects” to commercialize the technology and develop scientific analysis of any and all impacts on ocean resources and existing uses. Large-scale use of Oregon’s territorial waters for commercial wave energy development, he noted, “must be preceded by a comprehensive evaluation of this and other uses of these waters to ensure that ocean resources and other ocean values and uses will not be harmed.”
The governor’s executive order, which also focused on marine reserves, acknowledged local input as “essential to developing informed recommendations” for wave energy development, marine reserves, and “other new uses” of the ocean. The idea, the order stated, is to stimulate and strengthen the coastal region’s economic vitality by encouraging the development of new, sustainable industries, while “preserving existing livelihoods” in commercial and sport fishing, ocean recreation, tourism, forest products, and agriculture.
Enhancing and assuring a local voice in the decision-making process is exactly what Lincoln County officials had in mind when filing the FERC wave energy application almost four years ago.
While the preliminary permit would only allow OPT to study the area for feasibility, Bovett said it put the company and the wave energy industry in general “in an awkward position,” noting that “OPT has to either pursue it or abandon it and turn it back to FERC.”
Bergstein said the company has worked with local folks in pursing the Gardiner and Coos Bay projects, and he immediately called Thompson and other Lincoln County folks as soon as he heard the news. He told the News-Times the company would most likely withdraw the application and leave the site in a power blackout.
For Bovett, FERC’s move sent up a flare that the agency “is going to ignore local site concerns” and create a highly charged atmosphere that could lead to serious and protracted legal wrangling over jurisdiction and sites, featuring local, state, and federal entities.
“Everybody was operating under the assumption that FERC would do its best to honor the MOU with the state,” he added. “This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the system, when they issue the most troublesome permit they could issue.”
Terry Dillman, News Times – http://www.newportnewstimes.com/articles/2009/02/18/news/news02.txt