Photo: Illustration/Wave energy device (Photo: YouTube/Screenshot)

First US grid-connected wave energy test site reaches key construction milestones

The last major pieces of the contract to build the wave energy test site PacWave South have been executed, paving the way for the completion of the Oregon State University-led facility off the coast of Newport in Oregon.

Illustration/Wave energy device (Photo: YouTube/Screenshot)
Illustration/Wave energy device (Photo: YouTube/Screenshot)

As the first utility-scale, grid-connected wave energy test site in the United States, the PacWave South will offer wave energy developers the opportunity to try different technologies for harnessing the power of ocean waves and transmitting that energy to the local electrical grid.

PacWave project leaders recently authorized the procurement of more than 80 kilometers of cable that will deliver wave-generated energy to a shoreside facility where it can be fed to the local electrical grid.

They also just finalized the contract for construction of the shoreside facility, said Burke Hales, PacWave’s chief scientist and a professor in the Oregon State University’s (OSU) College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“These are the last two major pieces of the project,” Hales said. “The cable manufacturing and installation is the most technically challenging aspect. Authorization of the manufacturing is a huge milestone for PacWave and is critical to its success.”

The ocean test site will be located on a sandy-bottomed stretch of the Pacific Ocean away from popular commercial and recreational fishing reefs about seven miles off the coast of Newport. The site will have four different test berths, which combined can accommodate up to 20 wave energy devices at any one time.

Power and data cables buried below the seafloor will connect the ocean test site to the shoreside facility in Seal Rock, south of Newport. Louisiana-based industrial electrical services contractor R.T. Casey is overseeing the procurement, construction and installation of the cable for PacWave.

The cables will be manufactured in Norway by the Paris-based firm Nexans, which also has facilities in the United States.

The cable manufacturing process is expected to begin soon and will take about a year. The goal is for the cables to arrive in the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2024 for installation in the summer of 2024, Hales said.

Once installed, the subsea cables will come ashore at the Driftwood Beach State Recreation Site, where they will connect to terrestrial cables in an underground vault. The terrestrial cables will connect to the shoreside facility on Northwest Wenger Lane in Seal Rock.

Corvallis-based contractor Gerding Builders has been selected to construct the shoreside facility; work on that piece of the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2023, according to PacWave’s deputy director Dan Hellin.

With key support from Wyden, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, the recently enacted federal fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations legislation provides for an additional $22 million in funds to continue construction of the PacWave project.

Bonamici said: “As we transition to clean energy, we must look to innovative solutions and bold new technologies like marine energy. Harnessing the power of the ocean has tremendous potential, and researchers at OSU have led the development of this promising industry.

“The new funding secured for the PacWave test facility to begin construction of its shoreside facility is an exciting step toward tapping the vast renewable energy potential of our ocean. I look forward to seeing the completed project and will continue to be a champion for climate action, including marine energy, in this and future Congresses.”

In 2022, crews completed the installation of underground conduits that will house the subsea and terrestrial cables that will carry wave-generated energy from the devices to the shoreside facility.

PacWave South’s connection to the power grid will provide wave energy developers with the ability to test the efficacy of their devices as well as mechanisms for turning the energy they capture into a commodity with value on the energy market.

Based on current timelines, PacWave could be operational in 2025, according to developers.

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