Wave Energy Deemed Feasible, But Gnarly

Wave Energy

Ocean wave energy is a promising source of renewable electric power for the Redwood Coast, but the policy issues are complex and will force hard political tradeoffs, according to a state-commissioned white paper co-authored by experts from Humboldt State University and several other institutions.

The new findings suggest Humboldt County stands to gain hundreds of megawatts of sustainable electricity from so-called wave energy conversion farms. They would consist of offshore buoys which would capture a part of wave motion and convert it into electrical power.

In addition to the benefits of an alternative energy source and the profitable export of electricity, the farm’s construction and operation probably would infuse the area’s economy with hundreds of well-paid jobs, taking into account direct, indirect and induced employment. 

But HSU contributors Steven Hackett, Professor of Economics, and Greg Crawford, chair of the Department of Oceanography, caution that development and production will require a good deal of time—wave energy conversion is not going to make the North Coast energy independent or generate a lot of jobs in a year or two, or even several. For one thing, much more needs to be known about the efficiency, costs and impacts of wave conversion farms.  

The white paper is titled “Developing Wave Energy in Coastal California: Potential Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects.” It was prepared for the California Ocean Protection Council and the Public Interest Energy Research Program of the California Energy Commission.

Hackett and Crawford said the paper will help guide state agencies as they apportion research funds and assess proposals for wave energy conversion projects in the next five years or so.

In company with 13 co-authors, the HSU professors agree that far more research and data about existing marine uses should be collected to ensure that policymakers and political leaders make informed decisions. They say more information is needed about the extent and locations of commercial and recreation fishing sites, marine transit routes, marine vegetation harvesting, surfing and coastal recreation, wildlife viewing and aesthetic vantage points.