Feds ask for public comment on two Oregon Coast sites slated for floating offshore wind farms

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hopes to hold a lease auction for floating wind energy sites off the Oregon Coast by year’s end

By: - August 15, 2023 5:43 pm
Some of the most powerful and consistent winds in the world are located off the southwest Oregon coast, according to the Oregon Department of Energy.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified two spots on the Oregon Coast for floating wind farms. Some of the most powerful and consistent winds in the world are located off the southwest Oregon coast, according to the Oregon Department of Energy. (Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)

Two sites off the southern Oregon coast could soon be home to the state’s first floating offshore wind farms. But first, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will meet with residents and stakeholders in coastal towns, some of whom are concerned about impact to the fishing industry and marine ecosystems. 

Officials from the ocean energy bureau announced Tuesday that they had identified two ideal “wind energy areas” near Coos Bay and Brookings. The two areas are 20 or more miles from land, collectively encompass about 344 square miles of ocean and could host enough floating wind turbines to generate 2.6 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power about 195,000 homes. 

A map of the wind energy areas identified for potential offshore floating wind energy farms. (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

That would get Oregon closer to a goal passed by the state Legislature in 2021 to generate at least 3 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, part of the state’s larger climate strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2050. But it’s also raised concerns from some in the fishing industry and some environmentalists who fear unintended consequences to coastal marine life and the effect on their livelihoods. 

“Placing giant turbines and anchors in a current system that is largely free-flowing and structure-free could cause irreparable harm to seabirds, marine mammals, fisheries management regimes and more,” said Susan Chambers, chair of the marine industries and fisheries advocacy group Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition, in a statement last year. Chambers was responding to the federal ocean bureau’s interest in an even larger swath of ocean off the Oregon coast that had been identified as having potential for wind energy development. Several environmental groups opposed to the projects did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. 

Federal officials dropped a third wind energy area near Bandon that they were considering after officials did further research on the impact to the commercial fishing industry and to sensitive marine habitats.

Comments can be submitted here through Oct. 16 until 8:59 p.m. PT.

Public comment on the two wind energy areas announced Tuesday will be accepted online and by mail for the next 60 days. The meetings with residents, which are not yet scheduled, will be open to the public, with one designed to reach people heavily involved in fishing, the bureau said.

“We continue to prioritize a robust and transparent process, including ongoing engagement with tribal governments, agency partners, the fishing community and other ocean users,” Elizabeth Klein, the bureau’s director, said in a news release.

Following public comment, officials could update the plans, and the bureau will prepare to host an auction to lease the sites to companies interested in developing them, potentially by the end of 2023. A similar auction in California in 2022 brought in $757 million in winning bids from three multinational companies and one domestic company developing floating wind farms. President Joe Biden has pledged to develop at least 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind by 2035.

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Potential windfall

Oregon groups advocating for emissions-free energy hailed the announcement Tuesday.

Nicole Hughes, executive director of the nonprofit Renewable Northwest, called it “a milestone.”

“We are at the beginning of a multiyear process to consider the impacts and benefits of floating offshore wind as part of Oregon’s strategy to achieve our energy, climate, and economic goals,” she said in a news release. 

Offshore wind farms have grown faster on the East Coast, where turbines can be fixed on foundations set on the ocean floor in shallower waters. But that’s not possible in the deeper waters of the Oregon coast.

Instead, deep-water turbines can be fixed to floating platforms that are tethered to the ocean floor by long chains and cables. Floating turbines in deep water can produce twice as much energy as turbines that are fixed to shallower ocean floors, according to researchers at the ​​University of Stuttgart in Germany. And some of the most powerful and consistent winds in the world are located off the southwest Oregon coast, according to the Oregon Department of Energy.

More meetings

The decision to host additional meetings about the Oregon sites, and to double the standard 30-day comment period required of such projects, comes following pressure from Gov. Tina Kotek and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Oregon’s congressional Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Val Hoyle.

In June the group sent a letter to Klein, the ocean energy bureau’s director, asking that the bureau pause the process of identifying and leasing offshore wind areas until there was more collaboration with stakeholders.

Wyden, Merkley, Bonamici and Hoyle sent a second letter last week to Klein, asking that federal officials schedule at least three public meetings with coastal stakeholders and double the length of the comment period.

“I have repeatedly urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to do a better job of including all Oregonians’ voices while considering the potential for siting wind energy options off the Oregon Coast,” Wyden said in a statement.

The federal ocean energy bureau and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development have held more than 75 meetings with Oregon stakeholders about offshore wind development since 2021, according to the federal agency. These include meetings with coastal communities, the general public, elected officials, county boards of commissioners, Oregon Seafood Commodity Commissions, tribal nations, representatives from the wind industry, research and environmental organizations, the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council and the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt is a reporter for Oregon Capital Chronicle. She has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.

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