Wave energy controversy swells in Oregon

Jason Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, is advocating for a renewable energy industry that's at a crossroads in the state.
Cathy Cheney

Jason Busch, executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, is advocating for a renewable energy industry that's at a crossroads in the state. 

Anxiety is building as the state of Oregon prepares for a crucial ruling that could determine the future of wave energy.

The state is expected to approve a final plan by the end of the year that dictates where companies can build wave energy facilities.

The pending ruling pits marine power companies that have already invested millions in wave energy against Oregon’s $130 million commercial fishing industry, which includes seafood companies and well-backed environmental lobbies.

The budding wave energy industry and fishing and environmental groups are jostling for space off Oregon’s coast that wave energy advocates want for their facilities.

Jason Busch, the executive director of Portland-based nonprofit Wave Energy Trust — which advocates for the wave energy industry — said questions over the sea mapping will likely lead to negotiations between his group and fishing and environmental lobbyists over where wave energy equipment can be installed.

“We need to minimize our impacts while finding sites that actually work for us,” he said. “Putting us in the equivalent of ocean wilderness that’s a long way from the road with no substation nearby doesn’t work.”

Fishing industry interests worry that the devices would encroach on rich fishing and crabbing areas.

A source of renewable power

At stake is the $15 million-plus that state and private businesses have already poured into the industry since 2006.

The Oregon Innovation Council, which backs research and business development through state general fund money, has steered nearly $10 million toward the Oregon Wave Energy Trust and other industry efforts. Princeton, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies has spent between $5 million and $6 million on a wave energy device that will be installed near Reedsport.

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