Oregon Coast Community Leaders Call for Collaboration with Offshore Wind Developers

Credit: Nicholas Doherty
Rampion Offshore Wind Farm in the U.K

After nominating 3 areas off Oregon’s South Coast for to develop wind farms, Oregon Coast business leaders say time is already running out to ensure the 10-year process goes smoothly.

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Deep Blue Pacific Wind nominated three sites in the Coos Bay and Brookings areas to build floating offshore wind turbines at the end of June. Now, state and local agencies begin the process of ensuring the turbines cause as little interference with the environment, and the finishing industry, as possible.

The potential wind turbine sites are all located in areas the Oregon Bureau of Emergency Management identified as having high output potential for offshore wind energy in a call for nominations issued in April. Once complete, the turbines — which would be located at least 20 miles off the shoreline — would be capable of generating 30 gigawatts of energy.

Shannon Souza, CEO of Sol Coast Consulting & Design in Coos Bay, and executive director of the Oregon Coast Energy Alliance Network, tells Oregon Business the site nomination was a “major step forward” in the process of brining offshore wind energy to Oregon. Souza says she has been “working closely” with Deep Blue on plans to build off the Oregon Coast.

If the project goes forward, it would not come online until 2030 or 2031, Peter Cogswell, director of government and external affairs at Simply Blue, tells Oregon Business. (Deep Blue Pacific Wind is a joint venture between the Irish ocean energy company Simply Blue and the French petroleum producer Total Energies.)

But Souza says now is the time for leaders in the public and private sector to bring industries together to prevent friction.

“We have this excellent opportunity for the state to bring those stakeholders to the table,” Souza tells Oregon Business. “Between now the next 12 months, these call areas will be winnowed down to wind energy areas. The state could take a leadership role in making sure that our sustainable fishing industry sits down and constructively to help define where those wind energy areas are. She adds that the state should make sure Oregon Coast priorities are considered when BOEM holds an auction for the call areas in 2023.

To Souza’s view, it would be ideal if state agency or someone in an executive office took a leadership position for the process. She says she encourages state lawmakers to bring regional development groups like the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and other to the table in order to give BOEM “strong direction” when it selects which company will get to build on the call sites one year from now.

“We’ve heard there are concerns offshore wind is going to undermine sustainable fishing operations and the economy,” Souza says. “Now we’ve got to ask how do we flip that around into proactive mitigation. Do we need fishing fleet vessel upgrades? Do we need communication upgrades for those fleets? Is the fleet going to have to travel farther to get their catch? If so, let’s invest in that.”

According to a 2018 report by the sustainably business nonprofit Environmental Entrepreneurs which analyzed offshore wind projects on the East Coast, every dollar spent on offshore wind generated $1.80 in economic activity from wages and added value to other industries.

Cogswell says Oregon’s need for energy independence, as well as the Oregon government’s support for renewable energy, is what drove Deep Blue to select development sites in Oregon.

“When you overlay state and regional policy around supporting clean energy and decarbonizing the grid, and when you look at some of the regional forecasts that say we’re going to need to add around 14 gigawatts of renewable energy between now and 2040, it just kind of paints a picture to us that’s complementary,” says Cogswell.

The site’s nomination by Deep Blue does not guarantee it will be the one selected to build in the federal waters.

Shaun Gibbs, executive director of the South Coast Development Council, said the site nomination from Deep Blue was a “big first step” for Oregon offshore wind. He says the nine-to-10-year timeline for the project is feasible but could be derailed if the permitting, environmental review process, or lack of skilled construction workforce stymie the project.

Gibbs agreed with Souza that now was the time to bring the fishing industry on board. He also says the lengthy review and construction process should be used to make investments in the port of Coos Bay, and other ports along the south coast.

“The big next steps are somewhat parallel. One is working with the seafood and fishing industry on how they can create tangible strategic partnerships with the wind farms to better each other’s operations. The other is tangible, infrastructure investment that should occur here in the port of Coos Bay and other maybe ports along the south coast,” says Gibbs.

“They will need large marine terminal development infrastructure, warehousing, lay down storage space, all those things will need to happen. It’s a lengthy process. But I think one benefit of the BOEM process is that it is also lengthy.”

Gibbs, who adds if Oregon’s political direction changes in November, the offshore wind project could also be put in jeopardy. He also advocated working with community colleges in the area to generate workforce development programs to ensure whomever builds on the site will have access to skilled workers.

Even if Deep Blue is not ultimately selected to build on the sites, Cogswell says the process is an “exciting” step forward for wind energy in Oregon, and across the country.

“I think Oregon is well positioned and has resources that enables it to participate in the transition that’s taking place. The Oregon Department of Energy is very involved in this clean energy transition that’s taking place on the West Coast and really across the world,” says Cogswell.

“I think the big news is that this process is moving forward.”

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