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Oregon coast could be wave energy hub

The Oregon coastline could become a source of energy if a proposal for a wave power plant takes off.
The Oregon coastline could become a source of energy if a proposal for a wave power plant takes off.Getty Images File
/ Source: The Associated Press

As the price of a barrel of oil continues to surge, scientists are turning to the ocean as a possible source of alternative, and nonpolluting, energy.

The potential for harnessing the power of waves has drawn serious study by Oregon State University, federal and state agencies, and communities along the Oregon Coast.

"There's a real good chance that Oregon could turn into kind of the focal point in the United States for wave energy development and I think that would be a boon to the economy," said Gary Cockrum, spokesman for the Central Lincoln People's Utility District.

Groups hoping to begin work on experimental technology are considering a former paper mill site in Gardiner.

"We have a lot of momentum going for it, I think, but we still have to work out lot of details," said Alan Wallace, Oregon State University professor of electrical engineering.

‘Renewable ocean extraction’
The plan is to take over the site to make it a showcase for a "renewable ocean extraction system," he said.

Last Friday at the Port of Umpqua office in Reedsport, officials from Oregon Department of Energy, Oregon State University, Electrical Power Research Institute and other federal and state officials gathered to explain the fledgling project to more than 100 southern Oregon Coast residents.

"There is tremendous potential in the oceans to supply energy for the world," Annette von Jouanne, an Oregon State electrical engineering professor, told the crowd. "A 10-square-mile wave power plant could supply the entire state of Oregon."

The electric institute and the Bonneville Power Administration identified the Gardiner site as the ideal place for the project in their feasibility study.

The former mill has an outflow pipe already in place — a structure that could reduce the cost of building a power plant. Electricity from the Gardiner site could be transmitted to other stations up and down the coast.

Federal funds?
Money is the biggest obstacle. It will take about $5 million to complete the project's initial phases. But the recently passed federal energy law could reduce much of that burden.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who is visiting the southern Coast this week, called the project "intriguing." He added: "I would definitely be supportive."

At first, he was skeptical that a system could function along the Pacific Northwest Coast, famous for its rough seas. But he said he's seen a similar system operate successfully off the coast of Scotland.

How much energy could be generated from the water is still unclear, but those involved with the project say the possibilities could be limitless.

"I read something involved with this that said if 0.2 percent of the ocean's energy were harnessed, it could produce enough energy to power the entire world," added Cockrum, the utility district spokesman.