In Short

State Energy Department exploring potential for floating offshore wind farms

By: - January 25, 2022 5:30 am

Offshore wind turbines in the Baltic Sea. The Oregon Department of Energy is studying the potential to build floating, deep-water offshore wind turbines along the state’s southwest coast. (Photo by Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)

Oregon joins California, Maine and countries such as Norway, Portugal and Japan in exploring a future of deep-water floating wind farms as a source of clean energy. 

The state Energy Department recently published a draft study looking into the challenges and benefits of generating up to three gigawatts of energy each year from deep-water floating wind turbines off the state’s southwest coast by 2030. 

The turbines could be placed in waters from Astoria to Coos Bay, and would supply electricity for those along the Oregon Coast and in the Willamette Valley.

Three gigawatts is enough energy to power 330 million LED light bulbs or 2.25 million homes, according to the federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

The study was prompted by the passage last year of House Bill 3375, which directed the state Energy Department to explore offshore wind as a way to grow the number of clean energy alternatives and provide more reliable electricity for areas that are prone to fire, like communities in southern Oregon. 

The Energy Department is holding meetings with the public and with stakeholders such as the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Public Utility Commission, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Department of Defense, among others, in the months ahead. 

The agency is accepting comments on the latest draft report until Feb. 18 and will hold their next public meeting in March. The results will be presented to legislators by September.

On the East Coast, several fixed offshore wind farms operate in shallower waters, where the turbines are on foundations set on the ocean floor. But that’s not possible in the deeper waters of the Oregon coast.

Floating wind turbines can work instead, making use of some of the most powerful and consistent winds in the world that are off the southwest Oregon coast, according to the state Energy Department. 

Because floating wind turbine technology isn’t as developed as that of fixed turbines, cost barriers remain. Floating turbines are about twice as expensive to build, according to the Energy Department. 

The deep-water turbines are fixed to floating platforms, assembled on shore then taken out by boat and 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. 

If built, the state would need to modify the existing energy transmission system to connect to the ocean based transmission lines. 

In May, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that state would develop two floating wind farms off its northern coast, and President Joe Biden has pledged to build more than 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt 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. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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