Oregon wave project permit surrendered

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The developer of a proposed large wave energy project off the Oregon coast has surrendered a key federal permit for the project.

Waves lap islands off the Maine coast near Casco Bay, a more sheltered site than that proposed off Oregon.
Ocean Power Technologies subsidiary Reedsport OPT Wave Park, LLC had proposed a 50 megawatt project in the Pacific Ocean off the central Oregon coast.  This larger project was intended to follow on the heels of OPT's "Phase I" development, a 1.5 megawatt non-grid connected pilot project which in 2012 became the first U.S. wave project to win a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

OPT also won preliminary permits from the FERC to study the feasibility of larger projects off Reedsport, including a 15 megawatt "Phase II" and the 50 megawatt "Phase III" project.  OPT's Phase III preliminary permit gave it three years to study the feasibility of the "Reedsport Expanded Project", after which OPT could seek a license to develop and operate the larger scale phases.

That permit was set to expire on February 28, 2014.  Given the technological, permitting, and community engagement challenges raised by developing any advanced energy project, many permittees find that they need more than 3 years to study a site.  The FERC allows such developers to seek successive preliminary permits, effectively extending the due diligence period for qualified developers able to show real progress.

But based on a February 28, 2014, FERC filing, OPT announced that it would not seek a successive preliminary permit at this time, and would instead surrender the Phase III preliminary permit.  In its filing, OPT acknowledged the significant efforts made by the state of Oregon to facilitate wave energy projects, but noted the challenges interposed by a cascading series of unforeseen delays:delays in the Phase I study and development processes, resulting delays in the Phase II consultation, licensing, study, and monitoring processes, and "increased project-related costs."  Ultimately, OPT noted that while it continues to evaluate its Phase I and Phase II implementation options, "OPT's plans for an expanded Phase III Project are sufficiently uncertain at this time that the company cannot justify requesting an additional three-year preliminary permit extension."

Meanwhile, last month another OPT affiliate announced an agreement with Lockheed Martin to develop a 62.5 megawatt wave energy project off the coast of Australia.  While it is tempting to read between the lines and surmise that the Australian permitting process, culture, or site conditions are more favorable than those in Oregon, OPT has given no concrete indication that this is the case.  Estimates of U.S. wave energy potential remain large -- with at least one report identifying a total available wave energy resource of 2,650 terawatt-hours per year.  Whether or not the expanded Oregon project returns to active development, the size of the resource points to continued interest in developing the U.S.'s marine renewable energy resources.

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