FERC approves first-of-a-kind wave project

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission greenlit a landmark wave energy testing facility this week, giving a boost to a technology that has faced cost barriers but that analysts say could help decarbonize the grid.

The PacWave South project, an Oregon State University proposal, would be located about 6 nautical miles off the coast of Newport, Ore., and able to test up to 20 megawatts of power from wave energy converters moored to the outer continental shelf.

“This is huge,” Burke Hales, OSU professor and chief scientist on the project, told E&E News. “It’s the culmination of almost a decade of work.”

PacWave would be the first research project in federal waters off the West Coast to connect offshore wave power to onshore electricity systems. FERC issued a license to the project Monday.

The PacWave project — which received $61 million from the Department of Energy, $5 million from the state of Oregon and roughly $7 million from other partners — aims to help researchers nail down data on connecting different types of wave energy converters to the grid, refining deployment and maintenance practices, and improving the survivability of the equipment at sea.

In other words, Hales said, the facility would provide the “playground” for developers to test their devices.

“The real limitation stopping wave energy from keeping pace with wind and solar is it’s so hard to test,” he said. “We’re hoping to remove this obstacle.”

Hales said wave energy will not “power humanity” by itself. He anticipates it could contribute about 10% to global electricity demand. But it could be an essential component of any renewable portfolio because of its character, he said.

“Wind and solar are very peaky, and often the peak output doesn’t coincide with peak demand,” he said. “We all want to turn on our lights when the sun is down. But wave energy is slow and steady.”

He added: “Wave energy is the tortoise to the hare of wind and solar.”

The Interior Department, which last month issued a lease for the project, has said the facility advances the Biden administration’s twin goals of combating climate change and boosting offshore renewable energy (Energywire, Feb. 17, 2021).

Now that the project has acquired all necessary permits, it’s slated for a last federal review before final approval is granted. Hales said there is no timeline for the final review, but he anticipates it could take two to three months.

Once the project receives the green light, it could take 18 months to complete, according to Hales.

“The north Pacific Ocean is not necessarily the kindest place for construction,” he said.

PacWave South is the second wave energy research proposal in the United States to get an Interior lease. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management granted Florida Atlantic University’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center an interim lease to test wave energy equipment in 2014 that was relinquished in 2016.