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The Art and Practice of Negotiating with Ocean Energy Stakeholders

Posted by: | November 7, 2012 | 2 Comments |

A large portion of the marine energy community gathered in Portland, Ore., last week for the Ocean Renewable Energy Conference, hosted by the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET).

The event, while positive and motivational for the industry, assured everyone that wave and tidal renewable energy solutions still have challenges to overcome before they can be utilized effectively to power the world. One of these challenges is stakeholder negotiations.

Oregon fisherman Nick Edwards, who is also a SOORC and OWET board member, was the lone representative from the commercial fishing industry attending the conference. Commercial fishing is a vital component of the Oregon economy and possesses one of the largest stakeholder groups in ocean energy development. Edwards spoke during a panel discussion, “The Art and Practice of Negotiating with Ocean Energy Stakeholders,” and moved people while doing so.

Part of NNMREC’s mission is to involve ocean stakeholders during planning and implementation of ocean energy testing facilities. As a fervent supporter of stakeholder outreach and education, NNMREC is happy to be able to present Edwards’ original panel speech:

“The Art and Practice of Negotiating with Ocean Energy Stakeholders”

by Nick Edwards

That’s a novel idea, being a fisherman. The best poker player will tell you, that you’re not playing your hand; you are playing your opponent’s hand. It is not exactly the same in the art of negotiation, but in my experience, it is pretty darn close.

A commercial fisherman in the old days would negotiate with ocean energy stakeholders with a Louisville Slugger and Babe Ruth would have had a full time job. But the modern day commercial fisherman must have a more proactive approach. The challenge is to find a balance between existing user groups and the revolving door of ocean energy stakeholders. How do the two completely different industries meet, negotiate and coexist?

If I were an ocean energy stakeholder, interested in negotiating renewable energy sites with the commercial fishing industry, I would first learn my strengths. Let’s look at some of them:

  1. In 2011, Oregon’s commercial fishing industry landed 285 million pounds of seafood with an ex-vessel value of $146 million dollars. Using a conservative ‘economic multiplier’ of plus two, that is over $300 million dollars pumped into Oregon’s ports and coastal communities. There is no question or doubt about our economic impact or contribution.
  2. The elephant in the room, and segment of the fishing fleet with the most to lose, is the Oregon Dungeness Crab industry. The landed value of their catch in 2011 was a whopping $44 million dollars. That’s an amazing 30% of total landed value of all the seafood landed in Oregon.
  3. The Oregon seafood industry produces some of the cheapest protein food sources in the world, with the lowest carbon footprint on the planet. Four of Oregon’s commercial fisheries have received Marine Stewardship Council certification, recognized around the world as the global standard for well-managed, sustainably harvested and environmentally neutral fisheries.

These are just some of the strengths of the State’s commercial fishing industry. Realizing and understanding these strengths is important for all ocean energy stakeholders.

Now, let’s look at the strengths of the ocean energy side of the equation.

  1. Ocean energy resources are being developed and utilized around the globe. In Europe, they have a goal of using 20% renewable energy by the year 2020. On the Oregon coast, there are all the attributes needed for ocean energy development – good ocean waves, ocean current, ocean tides and strong offshore winds.
  2. Former Governor Ted Kulongoski set in motion Oregon’s plan for 25% of all energy consumed to come from renewable sources by 2025. Our current Governor, John Kitzhaber, is following the same path. Ironically, given my profession, I am still proud to say that I voted for both of these men.
  3. There is overwhelming state and federal support to create an infrastructure for ocean renewable energy in Oregon. The groundwork of ocean mapping is being led by the Oregon Ocean Planning Advisory Council, the Territorial Sea Plan Working Group along with its Energy Subcommittee, and the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, whose mission is to promote responsible wave energy development. All of these groups are trying to find suitable sites for the future of ocean energy in Oregon with the least effect on the fishing industry.

Now, here are some things for both sides of this issue to consider related to the “art and practice of negotiating” when valuable and historical fishing grounds are in play:

  • In Coos Bay, we started a group called SOORC – The Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition – with an open door policy for wave energy stakeholders to discuss their projects’ needs. We have met with Ocean Power Technologies, Principle Power, Aquamarine and NNMREC, just to name a few. During those discussions, we suggested alternative sites representing the least amount of conflict with existing user groups. In my mind, we have made concessions.
  • Some of the ocean energy stakeholders we met with have had a “let us help you” approach in those conversations. The intentions of others have appeared more disingenuous.
  • At this point in time, the Coos Bay/Reedsport area seems to be the “mecca” for ocean energy development on the Oregon Coast. It has a deep-water port with all the attributes necessary for ocean energy development, such as existing outfall lines, substations and important grid connections – and what appears to be a win-win scenario for both ocean energy developers and the fishing industry.
  • Realistically, though, it is unfair to expect one port to bear the burden of lost fishing grounds for ocean renewable energy development. In order to minimize, ocean renewable energy needs to be spread equally throughout Oregon, and caps need to be developed that limit the size and location of the projects.

Three years ago, during Labor Day weekend, I met a man I truly admire. I am proud to say that I voted for this man as well. Since our first meeting, I have been to his office in Washington D.C. and have walked the same halls in the Hart Senate office building. On that weekend, however, I had the honor of welcoming this man into my office, my wheelhouse, aboard the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Carter Jon. That man is Senator Jeff Merkley.

Senator Merkley and his staff wanted to see firsthand the proposed wave energy site just north of Coos Bay. I showed them the site boundaries on my computer charts, and then we transited from one end of this site to the other. It took almost one hour at seven knots. Senator Merkley learned firsthand how large a wave energy site could be. In the process, he got to see the small boat crab fleet that would be directly affected by a large wave energy site in that location. No pressure here, Jeff!!!

That five-hour tour aboard my vessel, the F/V Carter Jon, gave us both an insight into each other’s worlds. I appreciate and give you credit for your request to make the journey, Senator Merkely. You now have the perspective that every ocean energy stakeholder needs to acquire, with regard to the development of “responsible” renewable energy in Oregon.

Despite the ongoing discussions and planning, there are still several unanswered questions.

  • The commercial fishing industry is still wondering, how is Goal 19 going to protect the existing user groups in the Territorial Sea?
  • Will the commercial fishing industry, a proven contributor to Oregon’s economy, be thrown under the bus for an, unproven technology on the Oregon Coast?
  • How does one articulate the importance of a valuable, iconic and sustainable fishery to an ocean energy stakeholder?
  • How do we express our concerns about ocean energy development without sounding “anti-sustainable”?
  • How do we negotiate this balance and not ignore the bird in the hand while concentrating on the two in the bush?

A recent Coos Bay World editorial stated that Oregon needs to “wade slowly into the waters of renewable energy.” I agree. We need to get this right for both industries. There is no doubt in my mind that ocean energy will come, but the jury is still out on whether or not it will be as successful as envisioned by developers and their enthusiastic supporters.

Oregon is in a new risk-adverse era regarding the research and development stages of ocean energy along the Oregon Coast. Site selections for renewable ocean energy are being vetted as we speak. That reality is becoming readily apparent to the fishing industry. What I have learned during my 35 years of being a commercial fisherman is that the ocean real estate we relinquish, we never get back. A reallocation of real estate will end up being a reallocation of jobs. This promising venture of renewable energy needs very careful introduction into Oregon’s territorial sea.

In closing, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak before this esteemed group of individuals. It’s not always easy for me to wear two hats, to both be a board member of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust and also be a true steward for the commercial fishing industry.

Thank you very much … and GO DUCKS!!!

(Editor’s Note: Nick Edwards would like everyone to know that while he avidly supports NNMREC’s partner schools, Oregon State University and University of Washington, and their work, he is a lifelong University of Oregon Ducks fan.)

Photo courtesy of Nick Edwards

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