Engaging coastal communities in wave energy development

Harnessing wave energy has the potential to supply these millions of Americans with electricity, and create jobs in the process. But it also has the potential to disrupt the livelihood of other ocean users, put marine ecosystems at risk, and diminish the beauty of Oregon’s coastal communities.

The complexity of the issues has caused wave energy discussions to take decades as the state seeks to balance economic diversity, rural vitality, and energy independence, and also build trust between constituents.

Commissioners in Lincoln County, the site of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center* (NNMREC), were not opposed to wave energy research, but they also wanted to acknowledge and address community concerns. To find a workable balance, the Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE) advisory committee was created in 2007.

Oregon Sea Grant Extension played a critical role as liaison between the community, FINE, and wave energy researchers and developers. “Community collaboration does work,” observed Kaety Jacobson, Oregon Sea Grant Extension. “It makes it possible for off-shore energy, fishing, and marine habitat to coexist.”

FINE members were the voice of the fisheries and were essential to finding workable solutions to wave energy site placement by applying their knowledge of marine fisheries and the coastal environment. They became partners in collaborative research, picking up buoys that strayed, monitoring devices, and deploying equipment.

Strong community stakeholder support and engagement distinguished a successful NNMREC grant proposal—worth up to $40 million—from competitor sites. The Department of Energy grant, announced in December 2016, is for the design, permit, and construction of an open-water, grid-connected national wave energy testing facility.

“I’ll never forget watching the FINE committee draw on a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration chart with a Sharpie pen,” Jacobson said. “The space would eventually become NNMREC’s open ocean test berth.”

*NNMREC was established in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy to facilitate the development of marine renewable energy technologies via research, education, and outreach. University partners include Oregon State University, University of Washington, and University of
Alaska Fairbanks.

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