Last week, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (“PNWER”) Annual Summit here in Portland, Oregon played host to its first-ever ocean energy panel and moderated forum. The four-hour session was organized by Oregon state Representative Deborah “Debbie” Boone (D.- Cannon Beach) and Richard “Rick” Williams of Science Applications International Corporation. The five initial panelists [1] were joined by members of the Alaska and Washington legislature, industry representatives, environmental and project development consultants, and others in a frank discussion about the potential for developing an offshore wave and tidal energy industry in the Pacific Northwest.

The conversation was a good one, with a handful of topics taking up the majority of the air time:

  1. Each jurisdiction’s understanding and interpretation of how demonstration projects can or should be permitted prior to the development of large-scale commercial projects;
  2. Coastal and marine spatial planning efforts in each jurisdiction that will assist agencies with siting decisions;
  3. State and federal financial and tax incentives for wave and tidal energy projects, and how quickly the industry can reach economies of scale necessary to survive without such incentives;
  4. The electrical characteristics of wave and tidal devices that make them a challenge to integrate into the bulk electric system;
  5. The need for logistical and operations and maintenance support, including a fleet of vessels of sufficient size and capability to service the burgeoning industry; and
  6. How researchers at U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories are trying to assist in bringing the overall cost of permitting down by conducting baseline environmental studies in the offshore environment.

Overall, the industry seems very self-aware. Those represented at the PNWER Annual Summit understood (or came to understand) the major issues facing the sector’s growth. However, all seemed in agreement that substantial coordination is still required to streamline state and federal siting, permitting, and licensing requirements in the United States in order to make the step from a small number of demonstration projects to a thriving industry in the region.