Northwest senators urge U.S. to pick Oregon for wave test center

U.S. senators from the Pacific Northwest have joined the push to convince the federal government to build the nation’s first grid-connected wave energy device test center off the Oregon coast.

The four Democrats and two Republicans from Oregon, Washington and Alaska took their message late last week to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

In a letter to Moniz, the leaders said after “more than ten years of work and over $11 million in federal and non-federal funding,” a Pacific Northwest group behind the Oregon project is best positioned to successfully develop the facility.

The DOE is offering up to $40 million to help build the test center. In earlier funding rounds, the department also provided support to a potential project off the Central California coast. In August, however, the DOE said that by the end of the year it would select one project for final design, permitting and construction support.

The federal funding would cover about 80 percent of the cost of the facility, pending Congressional appropriation, with the remaining money to be raised by the winning group. Beyond Oregon and California, it’s unknown if any other sites are vying for the funding.

The Oregon proposal is fronted by the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which has branches at the University of Washington, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Oregon State University, where wave energy is the big focus.

The test center planned by NNMREC would sit about a half-dozen miles off the coast at Newport and consist of four berths for the testing of wave energy converters in big-wave conditions. A subsea cable would carry up to 20 megawatts of power ashore.

In their letter, the senators — Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, and Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska — emphasized that the Oregon site has gained wide acceptance on the coast, where wave energy plans have sometimes run into problems.

“NNMREC has worked extensively with Oregon’s coastal communities to build support for and address any potential concerns regarding wave energy research and testing projects, and will continue to work with the communities and stakeholders in Oregon, Washington and Alaska as the project moves forward,” the senators said.

The test center would be a big win for Oregon after more than a decade of state backing for wave energy. A similar test center at a remote site in Scotland helped inspire a marine energy industry that supports several hundred jobs, although company failures and waning government funding have shaken the sector.

Earlier this year, the Oregon legislature appropriated $800,000 to OSU in an effort to boost its chances of winning the test center.