Ore. zones its coast for wave-energy development

Source: Allison Winter, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, January 28, 2013

Oregon officials approved a marine zoning plan yesterday that designates offshore areas for renewable energy.

Passage of the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan amendments ends a five-year moratorium on permitting for wave-energy projects along the state’s 300-mile coastline.

Offshore energy developers and environmentalists praised the plan, which lets Oregon join Massachusetts and Rhode Island as the only states with ocean-management schemes.

“It will provide certainty and a clear direction for potential renewable energy developers and projects, but it also provides a clearer way to protect ocean resources and current ocean uses,” said Robin Hartmann of Oregon Shores, a conservation coalition. “It is really important for us going forward and will allow Oregon to lead in the siting of ocean renewable energy off its coast, rather than having it be random or having the federal agencies directing it.”

The new state plans provide some guidance for the Obama administration, which is trying to develop ocean management plans for federal waters (Greenwire, Jan. 23).

Oregon’s plan designates four areas considered prime for siting renewable energy facilities, such as wave-energy buoys. Those areas cover about 22 square miles, less than 2 percent of Oregon’s territorial waters.

While “exclusion areas” — marine reserves and sites for the disposal of dredge spoils — are off-limits, companies can apply for permits in any area, but they would have to meet more stringent standards to protect natural resources or allow room for other uses.

“Although we don’t call it ‘zoning,’ effectively it works the same as zoning,” said Paul Klarin, marine affairs coordinator for Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development. “We create an area, define it and apply certain standards to it, in this case with a single-purpose plan designed just for renewable energy.”

The plan focuses on wave energy, not offshore wind, which would likely need to go in federal waters in Oregon to get enough wind to be feasible.

Oregon’s effort came in response to a confluence of events five years ago when a new renewable energy standard spurred interest in marine energy projects and companies submitted preliminary permit applications to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Meanwhile, the state was also working on developing marine reserves.

After meeting with coastal legislators and fishing industry representatives, Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) issued an executive order calling for a comprehensive plan to address wave energy in the territorial sea. That launched five years’ worth of meetings with stakeholders that led to the development of interactive marine maps of fishing areas, important habitat and features of the ocean floor.

The plan designates a number of different “areas” that come with different standards for development. Developers face the fewest restrictions in the four “renewable energy facility suitability study areas.” They would have to meet higher standards in conservation areas and work with existing users to come to a mutual agreement to site a project in areas designated for “proprietary use.”

“The plan identifies the four [renewable energy] sites, but in order to get to those, the state had to come up with an array of requirements for the whole territorial sea,” said Susan Allen of the Pew Environment Group, who directs Our Oceans, a coalition of 23 Oregon advocacy groups. “There is really clear direction for areas that are inappropriate and appropriate for renewable energy siting, areas that are important fishing grounds and ecological areas, and areas that may have more wiggle room.”

‘Threading the needle’

Various stakeholders were involved in the plan, but tensions arose as the advisory committee started to plot areas where energy projects would be encouraged. Fishing groups were concerned they could lose out.

“The diversity of stakeholders that have been engaged have been very thoughtful, but the tone changed once we started mapping areas,” Allen said. “When it became a place-based discussion rather than a theoretical one … we started getting user groups that could look at the specific areas and react based on other ocean uses.

“It’s really been about threading the needle, finding areas that are suitable for technology … while protecting ecological resources.”

The Land Conservation and Development Commission’s approval last night was the final step in a long state planning process and amends the 20-year-old Territorial Sea Plan by adding spatial information and new zones.

“We used it to define the resources we need to protect and the types of areas or zones we would create and standards we would apply,” said Klarin, the state marine affairs coordinator.

Oregon has been of major interest for wave energy developers, both for its renewable energy standard that promotes the technology and its unique coastline. Oregon is at the center of an east-to-west wind pattern that produces prime waves for energy projects.

Wave energy developers have predicted they could eventually produce 500 MW of energy in the state, roughly half the output of a large nuclear power plant.

The projects will start on a much smaller scale. One company has a permit for a wave energy project in Reedsport that would generate about 150 kilowatts.

The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, based out of Oregon State University, also recently announced plans to build the United States’ first utility-scale, grid-connected wave energy test site in Oregon. It will test up to four devices from different developers (ClimateWire, Jan. 22).