NEWPORT, Ore. - The future of Oregon as a national leader in the development of wave energy took a major step forward today with the announcement of U.S. Department of Energy support for the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center based at the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The federal agency confirmed a competitively awarded grant of $1.25 million annually, in funding that can be renewed for up to five years. This will be combined with funds from the Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the University of Washington and other sources to create a total of $13.5 million over five years, that will help move the generation of energy from waves, ocean currents and tides from the laboratory to part of the nation's alternative energy future.

This support will primarily be used to build a floating "test berth" to test wave energy technology on the Oregon Coast near Newport, as well as fund extensive environmental impact studies, community outreach and other initiatives.

"This is just the beginning, and there's still a lot of work to do on the technology, testing and environmental studies," said Robert Paasch, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and interim program director of the new center. "But we have no doubt that this technology will work, that wave energy can become an important contributor to energy independence for the United States, and that Oregon can lead those efforts."

The new Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center will be one of just two new DOE-funded marine renewable energy centers in the nation, Paasch said, and will receive half of the funds that have been allocated nationally for this purpose. It will combine the efforts of many partners.

The Oregon legislature has already committed $3 million in capital funding to help create the new wave energy test center. The Oregon Wave Energy Trust has provided $250,000 in funding, is working to coordinate support from government agencies, private industry, fishing, environmental and community groups, and on Sept. 25-26 will host the third annual Ocean Renewable Energy Conference in Coos Bay. The College of Engineering, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Hatfield Marine Science Center at OSU will lead technology development, as well as diverse research programs on possible environmental impacts on the wave resource, shores, marine mammals and other marine life.

The University of Washington has committed funding support and will take the lead role on innovative research on tidal and ocean current energy. The National Renewable Energy Center in Golden, Colo., will support studies on how to integrate wave energy into the larger power grid and help it take its place alongside other alternative energy sources. And groups such as the Newport-based FINE - Fisherman Involved in Natural Energy - are active in providing input and advice from coastal constituencies.

"Oregon is now the unquestioned national leader in marine renewable energy," Paasch said. "But as this technology is still in its infancy, we want to get things right the first time. We need extensive research on environmental impacts, we need to work with community groups and fishermen, and we need our decisions to be based on sound science as we move forward."

Paasch also expressed gratitude to the seven-member Oregon congressional delegation for its support for the new center.

Construction of the new floating test berth should begin in 2010, Paasch said, after design, engineering work and permits have been completed. The facility will be available on a fee basis to private industry groups that wants to test their technology, and will be able to provide detailed power analysis as well as a method to dissipate the power.

"When complete, we'll be able to test devices, see exactly how much power they generate and be able to assess their environmental impact, using technologies such as the OSU Marine Radar Wave Imaging System and on-site wave sensors," Paasch said.

Meanwhile, OSU is continuing its own research on wave energy technology, primarily under the direction of Annette von Jouanne, a professor of electrical engineering. The university is working closely with private industry partners, recently completed a linear test bed to do preliminary testing of new technology on the OSU campus, and will be testing prototypes of the technology that OSU researchers believe may have the best combination of power production, efficiency and durability.

Last year the university also hosted a workshop to begin exploring the potential ecological implications of the creation of wave energy parks along the West Coast. That and many other questions - such as the effects of electromagnetic fields or impacts on migrating whales - will continue to be explored in ongoing research, much of it done at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center.

"We're extremely pleased that OSU and Oregon will be able to lead the development of wave energy in the U.S.," Paasch said. "Right now, when people talk about alternative energy, they mention solar, biofuel, geothermal and wind energy. It's time for wave energy to be added to that list."

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Robert Paasch,