COOS BAY — The guy from Ocean Power Technologies Inc. came to town with a wave energy sales pitch.
They all did.
The commercial fishermen, the longshoremen, the anti-liquefied natural gas folks. The port did, too.
It was OPT representative Steven Kopf who claimed the most attention. He stood for about an hour and a half before the commissioners who govern the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay on Thursday night. He touted the possible benefits of building a wave energy project off Coos Bay’s North Spit.
It will be an experimental site, he said. The technology is in its infancy. But these buoys would be bigger and better outputwise than the wave riders proposed offshore of Gardiner. The new design would not require the buoys carry oil, compared to the 400-gallon oil-packing devices proposed to the north.
For Coos Bay, initially there would be 20 buoys planted in the ocean 2.5 miles from shore, with the anchor gear at 40 to 45 fathoms, he said. At full build out, the site would cover three-quarters of a mile of sea somewhat northwest from the Horsfall Beach parking lot, according to Kopf’s map.
“We’re not looking for marine reserve-sized tracts,” he said.
The electricity-generating machines would go in the water in 2010 if Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting goes as planned.
And, he said, Coos Bay has one big benefit.
“We want a deepwater draft port.”
New Jersey-based OPT would build the devices here and export them to other places on the West Coast some day, he suggested. Although, Kopf stressed that right now Portland’s Oregon Iron Works is getting the business on building the first 10 buoys. There aren’t any steel plate-rolling facilities on the coast. But as the technology matures, he said, the company would like to have production at the deepwater port, he said.
Kopf’s talk never touched on specifics, as far as dollars or jobs that might be generated for the local economy.
“If there isn’t any industry, I can tell you how many jobs we’ll create — none,” Kopf said.
But that comment came in contrast to fishing industry anti-wave energy testimony in the meeting’s first hour. Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission Executive Director Nick Furman stood up and spoke all about economics.
Fifty-seven of the 433 boats with crab permits in Oregon are based in Charleston. Those boats over the past five years brought in $44 million of crab. Doing the math that spins those dollars through the community, it’s been a $132 million contribution to the economy.
Furman said fishermen aren’t fearing the 10- or 20-buoy experimental wave energy parks. It’s the full build out to 200 buoys off Coos Bay that terrifies them.
“That’s the fear … coupled with an undefined amount of marine reserves … has the potential of putting this industry totally out of business,” Furman said.
Kopf said that despite all the fear he doesn’t see wave energy occupying much space along the entire Oregon Coast. He doesn’t think buoys for all future projects would cover more than 6 miles of area coastwide. His company believes Oregon can’t use or send out more than 600 megawatts of power. Just for comparison, the Lincoln Public Utility District’s total power use now, with all its customers, is 400 megawatts, he explained.
But Kopf didn’t do all the talking.
At one point, port commissioner Caddy McKeown spoke up, seeming confused with the port’s involvement in all this.
“What role do we actually play here, Jeff?” she asked of the port’s Executive Director Jeff Bishop.
“I don’t know that you have a role to play. It’s a FERC process just like the LNG process,” Bishop said.
The port has no special standing, but it does have infrastructure of special interest to OPT. And that’s the ocean outfall pipe. It formerly piped treated wastewater from Weyerhaeuser Co.’s long-gone containerboard mill out to sea.
OPT wants to run its cables from the buoys through the pipe and onto the spit. That way the company wouldn’t have to trench through the surf and sand at a cost of $1 million per mile.
That wish had a note-scribbling Bishop seeming concerned at first. Kopf assured him the cable would take up only 5 to 6 inches of a 36-inch-diameter pipe. It wouldn’t rot in salt water.
Bishop’s interest was piqued.
Kopf suggested the power would go to California, but Bishop went fishing. He wanted to know if OPT would use a North Spit power substation. He wanted to know if the power quality would be consistent. He wanted to know if power generated during peak wave action could be stored and dispatched for constant flow.
Bishop’s quizzing linked back to comments he made in the meeting’s first minutes. During his monthly report, he updated commissioners on fizzling and sizzling ideas. The railroad closure caused two companies considering biodiesel projects to look elsewhere. But the port is seeking a state grant to work on developing a wind turbine development on the windy spit. And more, the port staff has dreams of enticing a polysilicon manufacturer to the old Weyerhaeuser mill site to build photovoltaic cells for the solar power industry.
“We recognize there’s a huge potential market for photovoltaic cells,” Bishop had said.
And those kinds of plants need monster amounts of power.