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Puget Sound waters test wave energy prototype buoy

A prototype of a wave-energy buoy
Columbia Power Technologies
A prototype of a wave-energy buoy

An Oregon-based alternative energy company is one step closer to generating electricity from the ocean's waves. The company has launched a prototype wave energy buoy. For testing, the startup chose the gentler waters of Puget Sound.

That bright yellow contraption bobbing in the saltwater offshore of Seattle is a small version of what may dot the oceans one day. The prototype is successfully generating clean, renewable power... though not very much.

"Yes, it makes electricity and charges our instrumentation batteries," says Ken Rhinefrank.

Rhinefrank helped design the wave energy buoy at Corvallis-based Columbia Power Technologies. He explains how it works:

"We have a float and a vertical spar and there is a rotary drive shaft that is connected between the two."

The passing waves lift and lower the float to push the shaft, which eventually spins an electric turbine. Rhinefrank says the sea trial will run until August.

A competitor has a head start. Later this year, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. expects to anchor the first of ten planned electric-generating buoys off Reedsport, Oregon.

That installation is slated to become the West Coast’s first utility scale wave energy park.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.