Wave Rider

Oregon, according to Ocean Power Technologies’ Robert Lurie, enjoys the best conditions for wave energy generation of any place in the continental United States: Our coast’s waves are tall, frequent, and consistent. Transmission lines run along the entire coast. And no significant physical barriers (like major mountain ranges) stand between the buoys and the largest population centers. OPT’s first buoy, manufactured by Oregon Iron Works, will be deployed this spring. If it works as planned, its peak generation will be 150 kilowatts.

Husing understood the only way to protect the fishing grounds was to reveal where they lie. So as fishers began organizing into collectives such as Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE) and the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition (SOORC), Husing was searching for ways they could confidentially share their fishing data in order to hold onto their prime grounds. His efforts ultimately helped secure funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to hire Ecotrust, a Portland-based nonprofit, to record and map fishing data. Ecotrust had previously worked directly with California fishers to bring their sensitive data to the negotiating table to create California’s new network of marine protected areas.

Husing recalls the fishers’ wariness of any kind of “eco” group. Trust was key. It took about six months to convince the first of the 500 Oregon fishers interviewed over the last year to reveal their grounds’ locations. Some, like the recreational fishers affiliated with the Fishermen Advisory Committee for Tillamook (FACT), resisted sharing their data with Ecotrust, fearing it would be used for pro-marine-reserve purposes. But ultimately, they, too, joined in helping to create a momentum of growing public involvement, which brought Ocean Power Technologies to the negotiating table as well.

In August, the company signed what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission calls a “settlement agreement” with crabbers, surfers, environmentalists, and state and federal agencies—in short, anyone who could bog the process down. The terms: neither government agencies nor activists would fight Ocean Power Technologies’ 10-buoy demo project, and in exchange, the company would submit to a 263-page adaptive management plan for any further expansion of the project.

“Rather than risk future lawsuits, and to be more in tune with the Oregon way,” says the company’s Portland-based public affairs consultant Leonard Bergstein, “Ocean Power decided it would be most productive to pursue a settlement agreement.”

After four years of meetings and tough negotiations, the deal brought everyone to the point of taking a deep breath and seeing how wave energy plays out, according t0 Reedsport mayor Tymchuk. “I like to think of what we’ve done in terms of Lewis and Clark,” he says. “The wave energy permitting process was a trail that had to be blazed—and it takes a pioneer spirit willing to go first and hash it out to make it work.”

The unorthodox approach set a hefty precedent for future wave energy development, but it also put an Oregon-based project in the lead for commercial-scale wave power in the United States. And that’s a fine tradeoff, according to Ocean Power co-founder George W. Taylor. “One of the positives about Oregon,” he notes, “is the enthusiastic and methodological way Oregonians deal with these planning issues.”