Ecological Effects of Wave Energy Development in the Pacific Northwest

A Scientific Workshop

October 11 - 12, 2007




The conversion of ocean waves into electricity has the potential to provide clean, reliable and low-cost electricity to the economy while posing minimal impacts on the environment.  However, in order for wave energy to develop and fulfill these assumptions, we must reduce the uncertainties about the technology's effects on the marine environment.  We must assess the potential environmental impacts of wave energy, determine what is known and unknown, and identify a rigorous set of scientific studies to address concerns.  This information is needed to support the permitting process as well as to make responsible decisions to site facilities and to minimize environmental impacts.


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Workshop Proceedings 
 (NOAA Technical Memorandum, PDF, 2.7 MB)

Workshop Summary (PDF)

Workshop Presentations




wave parkThe Ecological Effects of Wave Energy Development Workshop was a one and one-half day meeting with a goal of i) developing an initial assessment of the potential impacting agents and ecological effects of wave energy development in the coastal ocean and ii) developing a general framework that can be used to apply to specific wave energy projects. The workshop shared current understanding and initiated a broad discussion of the potential ecological effects of ocean energy.  The morning plenary session presentations provided a common understanding of wave energy technology and scientific issues involved. The afternoon and following morning provided a forum of structured breakout groups and interaction among the groups.  These discipline-based groups will generate written summaries that will be put in a proceedings volume to disseminate the workshop results.

This workshop did not attempt to discuss and vet policy issues pertaining to wave parks; rather, it focused on building capacity to more adequately address the potential ecosystem impacts of wave energy development in the Pcific Northwest.  In addition, the broader US marine science community may not be aware of the ocean energy momentum building in Oregon and will benefit from understanding the proposed projects and a framework for the ecological context in which they will operate.



buoyWave Energy is renewable power.  The Governor’s office is encouraging the development of this technology.   Several different projects are developing along the Pacific Northwest coast. There are currently 12 proposed wave energy projects along the Pacific coast, of which seven reside off the coast of Oregon. One project gaining momentum is being developed by a company called Ocean Power Technologies (OPT).

OPT is planning to build a 50-megawatt wave park off the town of Gardiner, on the central Oregon coast over the next 5-10 years and has filed a preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) The application describes an experimental 150 kW buoy to be launched in spring 2008 and an additional 13 buoys in the fall of 2008. The Reedsport wave park at peak capacity could power 60,000 households.  As this and other proposed projects move forward, a variety of unknowns could stand in the way of the timely assessment and development of this technology.  Stakeholder dialogue is underway, but significant issues around the environmental impacts to coastal ecosystems have yet to be identified.  There is a pressing need to begin examining how ocean wave energy development might impact the marine environment, biological communities, and individual species.  This workshop has taken the first step by developing a framework for evaluating these environmental impacts.  It also highlights the science from undersea cable projects and other existing ocean technologies that have a larger body of literature on the ecological impacts and may be applicable for wave energy. 

Oregon’s Governor is committed to helping the wave energy companies move to this state and develop wave energy off the Oregon Coast.  Mechanisms to “fast track” wave energy are being developed through the “Oregon Solutions” process. All known stakeholders and all levels of government are involved with this effort. The Department of State Lands is requesting permission from the State Land Board to start a rule-making process for wave energy in the Territorial Sea.  The Governor's citizen advisory council on ocean issues, the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC), has created a working group to address ocean wave energy issues.  Meanwhile, Lincoln and Douglas Counties have also filed preliminary permit applications with FERC and may be a direct part of the future equation of wave energy facility permitting.

It is time for Oregon's scientific community to begin to respond to some of the most commonly asked questions about the impact of wave generation on the local ocean.  The Reedsport Wave Park will be the first utility-scale facility in the United States and is likely to be a model for future projects. 



wave propagationWave energy is new:  Europe is leading the world in its development.  In the United States there are just three projects, and they are all experimental sites with a single device deployed: Makah Bay, Washington; Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; and off the coast of New Jersey. Expertise in understanding ocean impacts is still in the formative stages and developing the scientific capacity to better understand wave energy’s potential ecological impacts was the primary objective of this meeting. 

Invitees to this meeting include scientists with a present expertise in ecological impacts, scientists who do not have a present expertise but would be helpful in expanding Oregon’s science capacity in wave energy, and scientists whose expertise is transferable to understanding wave energy ocean impacts. This meeting did not focus on policy, details of wave energy engineering, or the socioeconomic impacts of wave energy.  Separate meetings to address these topics might be a recommended next step.

The scientists at the workshop will guide and provide the basic input to the proceedings of the meeting.  The focus of the workshop included topic areas such as:

  • puffinrockfishPhysical effects
    • Currents and waves
    • Littoral transport
  • Effects on Fish
    • Electromagnetic field effects (sensory systems, orientation)
    • Changes in migration
  • Habitat effects
    • Fouling community effects and interactions
    • Aggregation effects in pelagic environment (FADs)
    • Planktonic community
  • Effects of Benthic disturbance
    • Benthic-pelagic coupling
  • Marine Mammals and Seabirds
    • Electromagnetic field effects (sensory systems, orientation)
    • Changes in migration; use of Acoustic Harassment Devices (AHD)
    • Entanglement



The Reedsport Wave Park has entered a multi-year permitting process with FERC that will involve stakeholders and a series of resource studies.  Oregon’s 2007 legislative session will deliberate on potential incentive packages for wave energy, leading the Coastal Caucus looking into the positive and negative impacts of wave energy on coastal communities.  In order to provide useful and timely information to both coastal communities as well as the questions likely to be generated by OPAC and the Coastal Caucus, the science meeting occured on October 11-12, 2007.



The workshop took place at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.


Workshop Steering Committee:


  • George Boehlert, Director, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University
  • Robin Hartmann, Ocean Program Director, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition
  • Maurice Hill, OCS Alternative Energy Coordinator, Minerals Management Service
  • Justin Klure, Executive Director, Oregon Wave Energy Trust
  • Greg McMurray, Marine Affairs Coordinator, Oregon DLCD
  • John Meyer, Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea
  • Cathy Tortorici, Chief, Oregon Coast/Lower Columbia River Branch, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service



Agenda (PDF)


Background Documents

Workshop Summary (PDF)

Workshop Presentations



PUD OR state park ODOE noaa INR OR wave energy trust
lincoln county MMS Pacific Power YBEF LCD NREL