OSU helps pitch ocean renewable energy plan to President-elect Obama’s transition team

More than 950

More than 950 magnets create electricity behind Nathan Henshaw and Ean Amon, graduate students, as they test OSU's wave energy generation buoy. (photo: Ed Curtin)

Two research directors at Oregon State have signed on to an urgent letter to President-elect Barack Obama asking to include the ocean in the mix of renewable energy sources that merit funding for future research.

“During the campaign, we heard him speak of solar, wind, and geothermal energy,” said Bob Paasch, interim director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. “Now we’d like to hear solar, wind, geothermal – and ocean.”

Paasch and George Boehlert, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, signed the brief document, “Ocean Renewable Energy: a Shared Vision & Call for Action,” along with 22 other key leaders representing environmental groups, academics, energy developers, investors, and utilities.

“It is critical to get these diverse parties together early in the game,” Boehlert said, “because we don’t want a spotted owl situation.”

“We want the energy developers to communicate with the environmental groups now to minimize confrontations later in the game,” he said. “Most everyone agrees that renewable energy is a good thing, but it must be done with adequate protection of the marine environment. Many other government actions, such as streamlining the permitting process, will facilitate proper development of this industry while including input from all ocean stakeholders.”

The project, facilitated over nine months by the Environmental Defense Fund, addresses one of the key challenges of the Obama Administration: growing the economy while securing a clean energy future for the United States.


Wave energy buoy off Newport lights its own lamp as dusk settles over the Pacific. (photo: Al Schacher)

“We’re looking for more funding on the federal level for environmental impact research and public outreach,” said Paasch.

Ocean renewable energy research is at a point where wind energy was 35 years ago, he said.

“The U.S. was the leader,” Boehlert added, “but the nation stepped out of the picture and Denmark, Germany, Holland, and others became the economic drivers of what is not a major worldwide industry.”

Ocean energy is in its “infancy,” both OSU directors agree, and because it is only now developing, there is a need to help bring the best and most innovative ideas to fruition – with government support, whether through tax credits or other incentives, Boehlert said.

“Ocean energy won’t ever be as big as wind,” said Paasch, “because wind blows in all 50 states and only a few states touch the oceans.”

the view

OSU's wave energy generator buoy is pulled beneath the Yaquina Bay Bridge on its way into the Pacific. (photo: Larry Pribyl)

(To view a five-minute video clip of Oregon State’s wave energy generator buoy being deployed, click here.)

“But OSU can do it all: engineer the best technologies, study the environmental impacts, and do the community outreach to provide the state and coastal communities with the information they need to make good decisions based on sound science,” he said.

Boehlert agrees: “OSU is one of the nation’s strongest universities in ocean and coastal sciences.”

With the colleges of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Science, Agricultural Science and Engineering, and multi-disciplinary units such as Sea Grant, the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, Marine Mammal Institute, NNMREC and HMSC, “we have virtually all the elements necessary to move the marine renewable energy agenda forward,” he said.

“Our state is clearly a leader” especially given the Governor’s strong agenda, including the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the director of the Marine Science Center said.

The letter to Obama, the leaders of such groups as the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District, the Environmental Defense Fund, Pacific Gas & Electric, Global Energy Horizons Inc., Portland General Electric and the Surfrider Foundation, make numerous key points, including:

  • The need for a framework for testing and demonstration projects to determine whether technologies can be commercialized without unacceptable environmental risk;
  • Expanded federal assistance is needed to finance state-of-the-art energy demonstration projects;
  • The ocean is a renewable energy source, which could in turn become a significant source of green jobs for the U.S.;
  • A number of bureaucratic and regulatory bottlenecks could be removed under existing laws and rules;
  • The diverse group itself demonstrates that people of good faith can work together to help create a sustainable energy future for America and the world.

Chief mover behind the letter was the Environmental Defense Fund, Boehlert said. “They brought the parties together and conceived the idea, for which their efforts should be applauded.  It is significant because there is otherwise no mechanism to make this happen.”
~ by Ed Curtin

The document, along with the cover letter, can be downloaded at Ocean Renewable Resources Letter.

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