Offshore Wind: A Delicate Balance

Last year in Boardlines, former board member Jim Chambers discussed the possibility Oregon might have offshore wind projects generating electricity in the future, and I thought I’d provide an update, as offshore wind has received a great deal of news coverage recently.

House Bill 3375, passed in the 2021 Legislative Session, requires the Oregon Department of Energy draft a legislative report that identifies the benefits and challenges of integrating up to 3 gigawatts of floating offshore wind into the power grid by 2030. That report is due next month, and several public meetings have been held as part of that work.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will play a large part in approving offshore wind projects, as its mission is “to manage development of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf energy and mineral resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way.”

The Outer Continental Shelf includes the area outside of state jurisdiction (west three miles from Oregon’s beaches) to 200 nautical miles from shore

However, the topic of floating offshore wind has already become controversial in Oregon. BOEM is supposed to involve various ocean stakeholders in its work, including professional and recreational fishers, marine researchers, offshore cable companies, tribes, and more, but some stakeholders already feel that BOEM isn’t fully listening to them. Google has weighed in, asking for the establishment of protocols to protect existing and new undersea telecommunication cables that pass near areas about 14 miles off of the coast near Coos Bay, Bandon, and Brookings, calling telecommunication cables, “the backbone of the internet.”

Since the areas identified as having the best potential for power generation are off of Oregon’s South Coast, and are not due west of Central Lincoln’s service territory, it’s unlikely we will be heavily involved in future offshore wind projects. Due to its variability, offshore wind isn’t ‘firm power’ so it can’t replace the benefits of hydropower, or compete with its price. Wind generation is highly variable and can add complexity to grid operation and reliability. These turbines only generate when the wind is blowing so additional generation capacity is still needed in the region to ensure enough electricity when the wind is not blowing.

This emerging industry could potentially bring jobs to the coast. But more discussions are needed to ensure that those jobs don’t come at the cost of the commercial fishing industry, or that the concerns of Native American tribes and other entities are not addressed. Ocean energy managers need to offer more opportunities for input from stakeholders.

-Alma Baxter
Subdivision 2: Depoe Bay, Lincoln Beach, Otter Rock, Siletz, Toledo