TERRY DILLMAN, Newport News-Times, July 25, 2008
It sank to the bottom in 150 feet of water just one day before its planned retrieval. After nine months of waiting for the right weather and ocean conditions, divers and salvage vessels are currently on site to assist in the rebirth of a 75-foot, 40-ton wave energy buoy.
Developed by Finavera Renewables based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and built by Portland-based Oregon Iron Works, the Sept. 6, 2007 deployment of the Aquabuoy 2.0 wave energy converter – the first-ever wave energy test device off the Oregon coast – generated enthusiasm that has never waned, despite the Oct. 28 plunge into the ocean’s nether land. At the time, Finavera spokesman Myke Clark said engineers had gleaned plenty of data via wireless and satellite technology from onboard diagnostic equipment powered by solar panels and small wind turbines on the buoy.
“It performed exactly as we thought it would perform,” he noted.
Except for the sinking, the cause of which remains uncertain. The buoy began taking on water, and the bilge pump failed just one day before engineers were set to tow it back to shore. Finavera crews removed the anchor, mooring lines, tackle, and related paraphernalia, but had to leave the $2 million piece of technology itself resting on the ocean floor beneath the surface of the Oregon State University (OSU) wave energy test site located about 2.5 miles off the shores of Agate Beach.
Harsh weather and ocean conditions wiped out any hope of retrieving the buoy until now, despite everyone’s best efforts to recover it sooner.
Finavera officials notified everyone concerned as soon as they discovered the buoy’s disappearance, including Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy (FINE), a local advisory panel established in February 2007 by the Lincoln County commissioners. This panel played a key role in the wave energy test site selection process.
A week after the buoy sank, FINE members, county leaders, and others asked Finavera to explore any and all options to remove the buoy as soon as possible. At the time, Kevin Banister, Finavera’s vice president of business development, ocean energy, said they “pledged to explore” the options.
“We’re just as eager to get it out of the water as anybody,” he told the News-Times. “But we can’t make any guarantees.”
Even in good weather and calm waters, any ocean operation is tricky business. The Salvage Chief and related vessels began operations last week, with divers removing sand, cutting chain, and preparing the buoy for recovery. Banister told the News-Times the buoy “hasn’t moved” when discussing the situation earlier this week.
“It’s a complex operation,” he added. “It will take some time – as much as a week – to complete.”
That estimate is already off. Originally, salvage managers said they could tow the buoy in between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday. The first of the two pieces – the 10-foot buoy that bobs above the ocean surface – was towed into Yaquina Bay at about 2 a.m. Thursday, along with a Coast Guard escort, and taken to a shipyard about four miles upriver to await later transport to the company’s facilities. Salvage crews are working on getting the second piece to the surface and back to port.
Clark said the buoy’s collision with the seafloor at the end of its 150-foot drop damaged it, forcing divers to “cut the supports (of the accelerator tube) to make it easier to bring up.”
Kaety Hildenbrand from OSU’s Oregon Sea Grant Marine Fisheries Extension Service said the Coast Guard “is putting a 500-yard restriction on the vessels while they are towing.” Finavera and Salvage Chief officials ask that everyone steer clear of the work site.
Finavera developers said they would use the data gleaned from the buoy before its demise to “move forward with technological development” and create “the next generation” device – one as unsinkable as they can make it.