BOEM Signals Full Steam Ahead for Oregon Offshore Wind Farms

Despite strong opposition and doubts about the viability of floating offshore wind, two new projects are sailing ahead off the Oregon coast.
BOEM Signals Full Steam Ahead for Oregon Offshore Wind Farms
The Biden administration is racing to develop offshore wind farms as part of its ambitious green energy agenda. (Photocredit Bednarek/Adobe Stock)
Scottie Barnes

Following a 60-day public comment period, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Feb. 12 announced two Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) to develop floating offshore wind farms off the southern Oregon coast.

The two areas would cover roughly 195,000 acres and have the combined capacity to produce 2.4 gigawatts of energy, the agency said. That’s enough to power about 800,000 homes.

The announcement comes in the wake of massive wind project cancellations along the Eastern Seaboard and as Danish wind energy giant Orsted scales back its floating offshore wind development activities, acknowledging that the technology is not yet ready for prime time. It also comes despite strong opposition from tribal communities, the fishing industry, and various coastal constituents.

Oregon’s Democrat governor celebrated BOEM’s decision.

“Offshore wind is likely to play an important role in meeting our state’s growing energy demand and goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040,” said Gov. Tina Kotek in a press release. “It also presents a significant economic development opportunity for the Oregon coast.” 

BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein boasted about the agency’s public engagement process.

“The WEAs were developed following extensive engagement and feedback from the state, tribes, local residents, ocean users, federal government partners, and other members of the public,” Ms. Klein wrote in a public statement. “The final WEAs are based on reducing potential conflicts of ocean users, particularly on commercial fishing.”

Her statement drew scathing criticism from the Oregon fishing industry.

Coastal Community Pushback

“This is a slap in the face to the many stakeholders who have been trying to engage with BOEM for the last few years,” said Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “The final wind energy areas are slightly different from the draft wind energy areas produced earlier this year, but certainly not an acceptable or meaningful response to the many concerns, including those raised by tribes, fishermen, marine scientists, environmentalists, and state and federal legislators,” Ms. Mann wrote to The Epoch Times. In a letter to BOEM, Oregon’s Coastal Caucus also expressed its concerns about the agency’s decision. 

“Coastal community members and individuals tied to the fishing industry have overwhelmingly spoken with great opposition towards offshore wind,” the caucus members wrote. 

“These concerns have been echoed by marine scientists, engineers, environmentalists, tribes, and coastal municipalities. We cannot move forward with offshore wind in Oregon until the needs and concerns of these groups have been addressed.”

Ms. Mann expressed her concern about the impact of offshore wind on sustainable food production.

“The final wind energy areas are in prime fishing grounds where millions of pounds of sustainable seafood have been harvested,” she said. The areas are prime habitat for marine mammals and include nursery grounds for important fish species. BOEM is pitting renewable energy against sustainable food production.”

Fourth-generation Oregon fisherman Chris Cooper was caught off guard by the announcement, saying he was “shocked and angry.” 

Mr. Cooper’s fishing boats have plied the waters off southern Oregon for years.

 “We gave BOEM our track lines for where we fish, and I guess they have decided that our businesses and livelihoods are worth trading off to create gigantic wind farms,” he wrote.

“We will not be able to fish in these areas and we have no idea what the impact of these installations will be on the fish species found in there.”

Floating Wind in Doubt

Offshore wind energy is a key component of the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

The administration wants to build 30 gigawatts of fixed-bottom offshore wind energy by 2030—enough to power more than 10 million homes—and another 15 gigawatts of floating wind turbines by 2035, enough to power 5 million homes.

Already, it has announced plans to lease millions of acres of federal waters to wind power developers by 2025, with large-scale wind farm projects planned along nearly the entire coastline of the United States, including the Atlantic Seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific waters off California and Oregon.

On the Atlantic, those projects involved traditional “fixed-bottom” offshore wind farms, which operate in shallow waters close to shore. Each windmill is anchored to the ocean floor. 

But the areas proposed off the Pacific Coast are far from shore in waters too deep for fixed-bottom platforms. 

This calls for a new and untested system of “floating” offshore platforms that are tethered to the sea floor with cables in waters more than a half-mile deep. It also requires a complex infrastructure of undersea transmission lines, massive new port facilities, onshore substations, and upgraded electrical distribution networks.

However, the viability of floating offshore wind at a commercial scale has come under question.

On Feb. 7, Orsted CEO Mads Nipper told the Financial Times that the wind giant would slow its development of floating offshore wind.   

That emerging technology is designed to be moved farther out to sea where it can harness greater wind speeds and operate in deeper water.  

But Mr. Nipper said he now believes floating wind would “advance slower than anticipated” due to high costs and technological challenges. 

“We still don’t have mature floating platform concepts,” he said. “I think there are quite a few indicators that, at least at scale, floating will be on a somewhat later time[frame].”

No floating wind farm has ever been developed on a commercial scale anywhere in the world, and the technology has not been successfully deployed in waters deeper than 300 meters. 

The WEAs finalized by BOEM for floating turbines off the Oregon coast are as deep as 1,300 meters, Ms. Mann explained.

 “This is a giant experiment, and unfortunately, Oregon’s seafood industry and coastal communities are the ones who will end up paying the price,” she said.

Rough Waters Ahead?

On Feb. 13, BOEM announced that it will now prepare an environmental assessment of potential impacts in the WEAs. This will include a 30-day public comment period, during which concerned citizens are encouraged to voice their concerns.

“As BOEM moves forward with establishing a federal offshore wind leasing process this year, Oregon is committed to developing a robust and transparent state roadmap to inform offshore wind opportunities,” wrote Ms. Kotek.

“We will continue to work closely with Tribal governments, federal and state government agencies, ocean users, coastal communities, and all interested stakeholders as we move forward with our environmental review,” Ms. Klein added. 

Ms. Mann said she won’t hold her breath. 

Scottie Barnes writes breaking news and investigative pieces for The Epoch Times from the Pacific Northwest. She has a background in researching the implications of public policy and emerging technologies on areas ranging from homeland security and national defense to forestry and urban planning.
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