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Company thinks big with energy project.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - When most people picture the proposals for wave energy projects now taking shape along the Oregon Coast, it goes something like this:

A buoy, bobbing on the surface of the water but not so visible or intrusive as to impair the view - at least no more than the buoys that mark Dungeness crab pots do today - with most of the hardware underwater.

It's time to think bigger, at least in Florence. Platform big. Three hundred thirty tons big. Twenty-three feet above sea level big.

The project that Australia's Oceanlinx Limited firm wants to build off Florence's South Jetty is markedly different from other proposed energy projects along the coast that are made up of less-obtrusive buoy networks. The wave-energy generators that Oceanlinx is proposing will be in an area that starts a half-mile offshore and goes three miles out, extending six miles north and south. There will be 10 four-legged structures that measure 115 feet by 49 feet, not counting the cables and anchors that will keep them bound to the underwater sand. With those anchors, the footprint is 107,584 square feet.

"They're like small oil platforms," said Gus Gates, a member of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation and a local activist concerned about the project.

Surfrider filed a motion to intervene this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will decide whether Oceanlinx's permit application goes through. In doing so, the group joined the city of Florence, the Port of Siuslaw, the Siuslaw Fishermen's Association and Lincoln County.

Oceanlinx's project would connect via an underwater transmission cable to the electricity grid in Glenada, across the Siuslaw River from Florence. The offshore floating steel frame structures, which will be moored to the seafloor, will be made up of an oscillating water column and wave chamber, turbine and electric generator.

Oceanlinx officials did not return telephone calls but, according to the company's FERC application, the project is based on a principal called the "oscillating water column."

There's a vertical water column or chamber partly submerged and fixed to the ocean floor. As the waves bob up and down, the water level within the chamber rises and falls, causing air flow across a turbine that drives a generator. Water never comes in contact with the turbine or generator. It's air power.

By contrast, some of the buoys proposed along other parts of the coast consist of hydraulic mechanisms that transfer energy from the bobbing of waves into a mechanical form and then into an electrical form. The buoys that Oregon State University engineer Annette von Jouanne is designing would utilize a coil system that releases energy as the coil expands and contracts with the ocean's movement.

The question that all the companies want to answer is which technology is the most efficient, i.e. the most profitable.

The thing that worries people such as Gates is that the Florence proposal could have a greater impact on the fishing industry, recreation opportunities and the pristine South Jetty views of the sunset valued by residents and tourists.

"That's kind of the hub of surfing in Lane County," Gates said. "But there are also fishing grounds impacted, gray whales that could become entangled, kiteboarders."

Gates is not opposed to the project per se, nor are other entities that have filed to "intervene" in the approval process. He is interested in wave energy's potential as a clean, renewable resource, as something that might actually help re-establish fishing populations and damaged marine environments by keeping away some of the industry, such as trawling, that has harmed the nearshore ecosystem. But he is worried that the wave energy movement is gathering steam too quickly, and wondering what Florence stands to gain and what it stands to lose.

"We're kind of jumping the gun here," Gates said. "Why should we give up our ocean, our activity, if it doesn't benefit us? If could be great if it's done small, well-planned, conservatively. But how many jobs is this going to create?"

As far as port commission member Joshua Greene is concerned, it could create thousands of jobs statewide. But Greene still supports the port's motion to intervene because it gives the agency "a seat at the table."

"I'm very pro-wave energy from an environmentalist point of view, but I think it could also be an incredible opportunity for the state to develop economic strength," Greene said. "You've got to build them, you've got to anchor them, and you've got to maintain them."

Greene imagines a small footprint in the ocean but a manufacturing presence farther up the Siuslaw River, maybe at the site of Davidson Industries derelict former mill.

"Have the buoys made upriver, and then barge these things back out over the bar," Greene said. "You know what that does to Florence? That's like bringing logging back. The tonnage across the bar solves your dredging problems and creates a few hundred jobs."

By dredging, Greene means the federal funds the port fights for each year to maintain a safe navigation channel where the river meets the sea. Without a certain amount of commercial movement across the river bar, it's harder to get federal funds to clear the way each year.

Still, there's plenty of caution and reason for skepticism, said Mark Lull, president of the Siuslaw Fishermen's Association.

"These units are in prime crab country and salmon trolling area," Lull said. "With the rope and chain to the anchors, the footprint of these platforms is large. You can't troll through that area, you can't dump crab pots in that area. Everything will tangle with the anchors."

If all goes well with permitting, Oceanlinx expects to file its application for a license in three years and deploy its first wave energy units thereafter.
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Title Annotation:Business; Oceanlinx hopes to install 10 massive platforms anchored to the seabed off Florence to use waves to generate electricity
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 18, 2007
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