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Summary:

Lockheed Martin Corp. and Ocean Power Technologies plan to develop a utility-scale wave power project off the coast of California or Oregon, the two said this morning. Lockheed will construct the project and handle operations once it’s up and running, and New Jersey-based Ocean Power will […]

opt-powerbuoyLockheed Martin Corp. and Ocean Power Technologies plan to develop a utility-scale wave power project off the coast of California or Oregon, the two said this morning.

Lockheed will construct the project and handle operations once it’s up and running, and New Jersey-based Ocean Power will provide the technology — so-called “PowerBuoy” (pictured) generators that convert wave energy into electricity, which can feed into a local power grid via underwater transmission lines. The 12-year-old company, one of the more established wave power developers in a growing field, claims that its 10-megawatt buoys can work in arrays of up to hundreds of megawatts.

Wave power technology, however, has yet to be tested on that scale. Even single-digit megawatt projects (“utility-scale” generally means generating capacity of at least 1 megawatt) remain in the early stages of development. As Finavera Renewables found out three months ago when the California Public Utilities Commission sunk a 2-megawatt project planned for the Pacific coast, it’s a long haul between an agreement like the Lockheed-Ocean Power one unveiled today and actual deployment.

California utility PG&E agreed to buy energy from the Finavera array back in 2007. It was slated to become the country’s first commercial wave power project — until state commissioners decided the technology was too new and the prices too high for a viable project. Approval for the energy procurement contract: denied.

To be sure, wave power has bulked up its utility-scale track record recently, and the Lockheed-Ocean Power project may fare better with regulators. The companies have already worked together on maritime surveillance projects for the U.S. government. And last fall, Spanish utility Iberdrola deployed a PowerBuoy off the coast of Spain in the first phase of what Ocean Power said would be the first commercial utility-scale wave power generation venture. (A 10-buoy, 1.39-megawatt array is planned for the site.) If Lockheed and Ocean Power can bring down the cost of a power-purchasing agreement, the West Coast may be home to the second.

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