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Construction Begins on Futuristic Wave Energy Test Facility Off Oregon Coast

Published 06/08/21 at 2:20 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Construction Begins on Futuristic Wave Energy Test Facility Off Oregon Coast

(Newport, Oregon) – A cutting-edge energy testing facility begins construction off the central Oregon coast in June, located underwater and about seven miles offshore from Newport. The approximately $80 million facility will test wave energy, connected via cables to an ocean test site at a shore-based facility in Seal Rock.

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It's been nearly a decade of work to obtain approval from energy regulators. Now the futuristic PacWave South will be the first commercial-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the United States, boasting a network of power and data cables buried beneath the seafloor – like a sci-fi movie or something out of the mind of Irwin Allen. PacWave South will create for wave energy developers a means to try out different technologies that harness the power of the Pacific Ocean, transmitting that energy to the local power grid.

All this means shutting down the parking lot at Driftwood Beach near Waldport as of this week as construction begins. The entrance will be barricaded at Highway 101 to allow crews to move construction equipment to the site. In about two weeks, drilling will commence on both the land around Driftwood Beach State Recreation Site and on the ocean floor. This will include the underground installation of the conduits that will house the subsea cables.

Crews will begin assembling this week in the parking lot of Driftwood Beach, where the horizontal directional drilling to install cable conduits will take place over about 10 months, said Dan Hellin, PacWave's deputy director.

The project will not disturb the beach. A sound wall made of shipping containers will enclose the work site to reduce noise and visibility from the beach. A publicly-accessible restroom will be available to beachgoers at the site and pedestrian access to the beach will be maintained throughout construction.

All this could become a bit of an Oregon coast attraction on its own.

“We also plan to have a place where the public can view the construction operations if they like, but the exact location is still being determined,” Hellin said.

The parking lot will be closed for up to 10 months for the construction as well as restoration and improvements to the site after construction is complete, Hellin said. No public parking will be available at Driftwood, including on the access road, during the closure.

“An underground vault in the Driftwood parking lot will house the cable connections,” Hellin said. “When all the work is complete, the only thing visible at Driftwood will be some manhole covers. Everything else will be buried.”

Sometime in June OSU expects preparations to begin for the shore-based utility connections and the monitoring facility, which operate in much the same manner as a power substation. At this construct, wave-generated power will be conditioned, a process to ready the power so it can be added to the local power grid, which is operated by the Central Lincoln People's Utility District.

The shore-based site is located on Northwest Wenger Lane, just off Highway 101. Wenger Lane is a private drive and construction at that site is not likely to be visible to the public. However, the project also includes improvements to the intersection of the highway and Wenger Lane that will be visible, Hellin said.

Hellin said current timelines suggest the Wenger Lane site will be prepared this year and construction of the facilities will occur in 2022. The installation of the subsea cables is expected to occur in 2022 or 2023, and the facility would begin operating after that.

OSU said the testing equipment is well underwater and away from popular commercial or fishing reefs. The ocean site will have four different testing “berths,” which combined can accommodate up to 20 wave energy devices at any one time.

For additional information or construction updates, visit http://pacwaveenergy.org/constructionupdates/.

PacWave South is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Oregon and other public and private entities. Oregon State's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences is managing the construction and operation of the facility. PHOTOS OF THE AREA BELOW

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