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DOE Pulls Backing for Oregon Offshore Wind Project

There was a lot of fanfare in February 2014 when the Obama administration announced Principle Power could submit a plan to build a 30-megawatt offshore wind farm in deep Pacific Ocean waters off the coast at Coos Bay, Oregon. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Portland to publicize the decision, and joined then-Gov. John Kitzhaber in front of a gaggle of media. “Floating Wind Turbines Coming to Oregon Coast,” ClimateWire reported a day later. (Others were less exuberant.)

No such ceremony this past week, as the project’s demise was made official in a U.S. Department of Energy update to its Advanced Technology Demonstrations Program for Wind.

Media in Virginia first reported the feds’ decision after Dominion Virginia Power put out a press release that the DOE was jettisoning support for an offshore wind project that the company was planning to do off the coast at Virginia Beach.

That project and the Oregon one (plus a third off New Jersey, called Fishermen’s Energy) had been funded to the tune of $10.7 million apiece, with about $40 million more due once they convinced the DOE they were actually on course to be built.

Neither was. Dominion seemed weirdly lukewarm on its own VOWTAP project right from the start, and turned icy after cost estimates came in on the high side. In Oregon, Principle Power was unable to get an above-market power purchase agreement for Windfloat Pacific from the state’s two major investor-owned utilities, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power, and there was no political appetite to force it. Gov. Kate Brown, who replaced the scandal-ruined Kitzhaber as governor in early 2015, appeared unwilling to spend any political capital to make it happen (she was busy backing a clean fuels bills in 2015, and 2016’s legislative session was dominated by the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition bill). She did set up a “WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee” last summer, but critics said the composition of the committee made it unlikely it would find a solution. And it didn’t.

In its funding update, the DOE didn’t say they’d pulled the plug on Dominion and Principle Power, but instead said an evaluation had led them to select two alternate projects:

In May 2016, the Energy Department evaluated the full portfolio against established milestones to determine whether any of the three demonstration projects—Dominion, Fishermen’s Energy, or Principle Power—should continue as part of the Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration program, and whether either or both of the alternates—the University of Maine or LEEDCo—should be onboarded into the Demonstration program.

Through this evaluation, the Department decided that the Atlantic City Windfarm developed by Fishermen’s Energy, Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation’s (LEEDCo’s) Icebreaker project, and the University of Maine’s New England Aqua Ventus I project have demonstrated significant progress toward being successfully completed and producing power.

None of this is too surprising. Last June, I wrote a piece for Breaking Energy about the original three projects’ struggles. Check it out for more background, but the basic point was that the DOE’s funding for advanced offshore wind simply wasn’t enough to make such projects happen. Will the two newly tapped projects and the still-standing Jersey project now be able to find the strong state and/or utility support they will need?

The Jersey project looks stuck as long as Chris Christie is governor; earlier this month he vetoed another bill that would have paved the way for a power purchase agreement. Prospects for the Maine project appear better—regulators long ago approved a term sheet to sell the power from the University of Maine-run project at 23 cents per kilowatt-hour. Of course, a planned Statoil project in the state had a similar term sheet, but it ultimately fell through under pressure from Gov. Paul LePage.

Finally, in Ohio, the developer says it “has a Memorandum of Understanding with Cleveland Public Power for 25% of the power” and agreements with two counties to buy 10 percent apiece. That doesn’t sound totally solid, but is better than nothing. What of the remaining power? The plan is that it “will be purchased by a retail electricity supplier who will create an Icebreaker power option for residential and commercial customers.” It all sounds reasonable, but far from certain.

About That Not-New Funding for a Wave Energy Test Center in California

The U.S. Department of Energy has been less than transparent about the process, so some confusion is understandable, but it was still weird to see a spate of stories in the past week about Cal Poly’s Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy receiving $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue study of a possible grid-connected wave energy test center off the Central California coast.

This money actually happened several months ago, coming on top of $750,000 the DOE had previously awarded the not quite nascent California project. Here’s a grab from a DOE rundown [PDF] of wave energy-related funding trickled out in the past several years:

weird april 2016 cal poly news-rule

The local San Luis Obispo coverage appears to have been prompted by a press release from Cal Poly, but you’d think the website Tidal Energy Today would have realized this wasn’t exactly hot news, having covered it last November.

The real news to keep an eye out for is a funding opportunity announcement (or something resembling a FOA) for the next phase for the test center – money to get an actual project rolling. Oregon State University has received millions from the DOE already, as well, and is aiming to build the test center off Newport, Oregon. As I reported in February in the Portland Business Journal, Congress late last year appropriated $5 million to be allocated for a test center in the current fiscal year, and the DOE has said it “intends to conduct a competitive solicitation to select one site for final engineering and design.”

Two Oregon Teams Reach Wave Energy Prize Finals

Two Oregon teams are among the finalists selected today in the Wave Energy Prize, a U.S. Department of Energy competition to double the energy captured from ocean waves. One is the familiar Salem-based M3 and the other is a new name in the wave game, Portland-based AquaHarmonics.

The teams, both with Oregon State ties, were selected along with seven other teams to construct 1/20th-scale models of their wave energy converters. As finalists, they’ll receive up to $125,000 to ready their devices for testing this summer at the Navy’s giant Carderock MASK Basin wave tank in Maryland. Assuming they meet a cost-efficiency threshold set for the competition, the first-place winner could receive $1.5 million, second place $500,000 and third place $250,000.

The competition began with 92 entries, then was trimmed to 66 teams that submitted technical documents. Twenty teams were next selected as semifinalists and required to perform wave-tank tests of 1/50th-scale models.

Although Oregon State has a wave tank, in order not to confer a “home-field” advantage, AquaHarmonics and M3 were sent off to the University of Michigan to test their devices.

AquaHarmonics consists of Alex Hagmuller and Max Ginsburg, both engineering graduates from Oregon State, according to their Facebook page. Their device is described as a “point absorber with latching/de-clutching control.” Point absorbers bob at the surface to absorb the vertical motion of passing waves.

M3’s design is an adaptation of the APEX device that was tested off Camp Rilea in September 2014 – submerged but not on the ocean floor like APEX. Called NEXUS, it uses the change in pressure caused by passing waves to send air back and forth through a column, spinning a turbine.

M3 is led by Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes, both Oregon State grads as well. The pair recently won a $600,000 U.S. DOE contract to advance the APEX concept.

The Pacific Northwest, home to much of the wave energy development in the United States, also has a third team among the finalists, Oscilla Power of Seattle. Their floating device is completely different from anything else, taking advantage of an effect called magnetostriction, caused by the constantly changing tension in the device’s tethers, to produce an electrical current.

With Newport facility in sight, wave energy prepares for $1M win in Salem

The state legislature is poised to give Oregon wave energy backers what they hope will be an edge on any competitors — namely a California hopeful — in a quest to land a U.S.-supported wave energy test center….

See my story on the Portland Business Journal website.

Pacific Northwest Ocean Energy Firms Net DOE Cash

Oregon has pulled back on its investment in ocean energy, but for now, at least, funding from the U.S. Department of Energy continues to flow to the Pacific Northwest.

The DOE on Monday announced contract awards totaling “up to $10.5 million” for projects by six ocean energy players, three of which are headquartered in or have significant operations in the region: Columbia Power Technologies, Oscilla Power and M3 Wave.

The individual award amounts weren’t disclosed and the companies will need to negotiate project terms with the DOE in the coming weeks. However, based on the earlier DOE funding opportunity announcement, it looks like Columbia Power Technologies is in line to receive $400,000 in the first phase of its project, with an additional $3.75 million possible in a second phase, while Oscilla and M3 are due to get $600,000 apiece for their projects.

An early version of the Columbia Power Technologies wave energy converter. Image courtesy the company.

An early version of the Columbia Power Technologies wave energy converter. Image courtesy the company.

Columbia Power is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, but its product development team — a half-dozen engineers with deep Oregon State University connections — is in Corvallis. The company tested a small-scale prototype in Puget Sound in 2011 and 2012, and with $3 million from the Naval Facilities and Engineering Command, is due to try out a grid-connected, utility-scale version of its StingRAY device at a Navy test site in Hawaii in 2016.

From 2008 through the 2014 fiscal year, Columbia Power received project funding from the DOE’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office totaling $7.5 million, and got $800,000 in grants through the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The new project backed by the DOE is aimed at making it easier and less expensive to install and recover the StingRAY device, which bobs at the ocean’s surface and uses forward and aft floats to absorb the energy of waves.

Seattle-based Oscilla uses a device that resides atop the swells in deep water, as well. But it generates power in a very different way, taking advantage of an effect called magnetostriction, caused by the constantly changing tension in the device’s tethers, to produce an electrical current. The company has received four SBIR awards totaling nearly $1.8 million, and in August said it had been awarded a £500,000 contract by Scotland’s wave energy development agency to improve its power takeoff system.

The DOE said Oscilla will use the new award to “optimize the device’s storm-survival configurations, which will decrease the loads the device experiences during extreme conditions, thus lowering the resulting cost of energy.”

For M3, the new award would represent a big infusion for what has been a minimally funded effort — until now, it had received about $400,000 from the state of Oregon and $240,000 from the DOE, and founders Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes have retained their day jobs as engineers at Hewlett-Packard.

M3's Mike Morrow in a screen grab from a recent Weather Channel feature on the company.

M3’s Mike Morrow in a screen grab from a recent Weather Channel feature on the company.

In an interview, Morrow wasn’t sure how the new backing might change that situation, and said ocean energy continues to be underfunded in the United States. Still, he said the award was a big boost that would “definitely help us do a lot of important work” in refining M3’s technology, which is based on a concept Morrow and Delos-Reyes came up with in 1991 while students at Oregon State University.

Unlike the other devices, the M3 wave energy converter is submerged in the water. Pressure changes from passing waves deflate an air bladder at one end of the device, pushing air through a column to a bladder at the other end. The flowing air, back and forth, turns a bidirectional turbine at the center of the column.

A one-fifth scale version of the device was tested for a few weeks off Camp Rilea in September 2014. Though successful, the test revealed potential issues with shifting sediment on the ocean floor. The new project “will explore ways to minimize effects of sediment transport,” the DOE said.

M3 is also a competitor for the DOE-sponsored Wave Energy Prize, which is searching for “game-changing performance enhancements” and offering $1.5 million to the grand prize winner. A field of 92 was narrowed to 20 in August and finalists are to be announced in March. But first, early next month, the Salem-based M3 will take a 1/50th-scale version of its new NEXUS model to Michigan for wave-tank testing as part of the contest. Oscilla Power is also in the competition, and will test its small-scale model in Maine next month.

Snohomish Tidal Power Project Officially Dead

WindFloat Pacific: What’s This About ‘Secret’ Meetings?

The Portland Tribune is kicking up a little dust regarding the WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that Gov. Kate Brown is putting together. This is the body that the Oregon governor hopes will find a way to keep the offshore wind project on course to receive crucial federal funding and ultimately be built off Coos Bay.

As a demonstration project, WindFloat Pacific power is likely to be pricey – the idea is that the cost would drop on subsequent, scaled-up projects – and the state is looking to help the developer find a buyer. As I reported in June, backers of the project failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to purchase WindFloat’s output.

So now the Trib reports that the WindFloat committee won’t meet publicly, and suggests this goes against the new governor’s pledge to be ultra-transparent in the Post-Kitz Era. It’s a reasonable point, but I will note that there was a public hearing on the WindFloat bill last April, and as far as I can tell, the Trib didn’t think that was important enough to write a story about it. Also, the governor’s committee won’t have any real power – it’s just going to try to come up with a plan. That plan would then likely need to be acted on by the legislature and/or the Public Utilities Commission, in which case all kinds of vetting could unfold.

Still, public discussion of public policy, that sort of makes sense, right? The only issue I can see is WindFloat is already behind schedule – the developers are asking the feds for a one-year extension on the project timetable – and a new layer of public meetings runs the risk of dragging out the search for a solution. But that’s where leadership comes in. Brown was AWOL on this issue this past spring. Maybe with some focused action now, she can shepherd a process that is open and speedy and delivers this project to Oregon.


Proposed Oregon Offshore Wind Farm Downsizing

No surprise here: The proposed U.S.-backed Oregon floating offshore wind project is downsizing in a bid to get built.

WindFloat Pacific is in line for nearly $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help build a project about 20 miles off the coast at Coos Bay. The plan was for a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project.

But as I reported exclusively in June, WindFloat Pacific backers failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to buy WindFloat’s above-market-price output. That put the project at risk of losing its crucial DOE funding.

Principle Power’s Kevin Banister, the point man for the project in Oregon, had suggested that downsizing might be the best way to make the project more palatable to the Oregon Legislature and/or Oregon utilities – and now Banister is making that official.

“We’re saying now it’s an up to a 24MW project,” Banister told Recharge News. “It became clear to us that for a demonstration-scale project 30MW was a little bigger than the appetite in the state.” The developer is also asking the DOE for an extra year to move the project along. It had hoped to be in operation in 2017.

Late last month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced formation of a WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that will try to come up with a power purchase arrangement for the project.


Oregon Slashes Wave Energy Budget

m3 deployment danko

M3 wave device test deployment off Oregon, September 2014. Photo by Pete Danko.

The state legislature has gutted funding for the organization that made Oregon the focal point for a nascent wave energy industry in the United States over the past eight years.

The state-backed Oregon Innovation Council, known as Oregon InC, had been set to hand over $1.5 million to the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which received nearly $2 million in the 2013-15 budget and around $12 million total since 2007. But the legislative subcommittee that holds the purse strings came through with a mere $250,000 for OWET in its 2015-17 budget report.

Is it a death knell for the state’s ocean energy ambitions?

“It could be interpreted as a statement that Oregon is pulling back on ocean energy,” OWET Executive Director Jason Busch said in an interview this week. “But that would be wrong. We’re going to be limited in what we can do, but we’re still going to do everything we can to advance ocean energy’s future in Oregon, and we’re going to succeed.”

Ocean energy – which includes wave, tidal stream and, counterintuitively, even river energy – is mostly an afterthought in climate change and renewable energy circles, a distant hope at best, too not-ready, too expensive, obscured in the here and now by wind and solar.

But it’s long been viewed differently in Oregon.

Wave energy in particular has been seen as an opportunity, perhaps not for massive amounts of energy in the cheap-electricity state, but for jobs in the R&D, manufacturing and testing of devices that could be deployed fairly soon in places like Hawaii, Alaska, island nations and even Europe, where the high cost of energy gives wave an opening.

Busch said OWET can still perform meaningful work toward that vision, primarily by driving development of a regional organization in support of ocean energy, with Alaska, Washington, Hawaii and California – and even British Columbia – joining Oregon in the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust.

“Hawaii wants wave energy, Alaska wants hydrokinetic energy of all sorts, California is very interested – I’ve long thought that leveraging the region’s political and economic power would be the way to accelerate investment,” Busch said.

Busch is confident that even as most deployments ultimately go elsewhere, Oregon will be the place to design, build and test devices. He noted that of the three utility-scale deployments planned for a test center offshore from Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay, at least two of the devices will be built in Oregon.

That’s just one sign of OWET’s success, Busch said. Another: $31.5 million in federal and private investment in ocean energy in the state.

But OWET took a hit when a widely publicized project it backed, a planned grid-connected array by the New Jersey-based company Ocean Power Technologies, off the coast at Reedsport, succumbed to technical and financial woes, leaving a giant wave energy converter sitting in a Portland shipyard, undeployed,

The Reedsport project might have produced only 1.5 megawatts of power at full capacity, but it also would have signaled progress in a way that legislators could comprehend. Instead, they saw what looked like failure.

The chance for a big win for Oregon is still possible, however – the U.S. Department of Energy is aiming to back a grid-connected wave energy test facility capable of plugging in several utility-scale devices and even arrays of devices. The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University is the frontrunner for the project in a face-off with a California proposal.

Will OWET’s budget bludgeoning send a signal to the DOE that Oregon is backing off on wave energy?

Busch said that was anyone’s guess, but added that he delivered a go-for-it-or-go-home message last week to the Oregon Coast Economic Summit [PDF], hosted by the Coast Caucus of the Oregon Legislature.

“I had one goal there – to get the state of Oregon to recognize the opportunity, to understand the benefits, and to understand how close we are to losing it if we do not speak as a common voice,” Busch said.

In practical terms, that could mean a commitment from the legislature in its short session next year to come up with the matching funding – at least $5 million, perhaps as much as $10 million –  that the DOE would require from the winner of the test center.