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Interior looks to Oregon for offshore wind power development

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Two offshore wind turbines off Virginia Beach, Va. On Monday, June 29, 2020.

Two offshore wind turbines off Virginia Beach, Va. On Monday, June 29, 2020.

Steve Helber / AP

The Biden administration has ambitious plans to expand offshore wind power generation in the United States over the next several years, and Oregon is poised to lead this clean energy sector on the West Coast.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland announced last week that his ministry wants to lease up to seven federal water bodies for offshore wind farms by 2025 in the hopes of producing around 30,000 megawatts of electricity by 2030. That would be enough to power tens of millions of homes.

The Home Office presents an ambitious roadmap as we push forward the administration’s plans to address climate change, create well-paying jobs and accelerate nations’ transition to a cleaner energy future, said Haaland at an energy conference in Boston.

The administration has identified Oregon as one of its ideal locations for offshore wind development along with California, the Gulf of Mexico and much of the east coast.

Were still a long way from seeing turbines dotting the ocean horizon (that’s if their location is close enough to be seen from shore), but Oregon State University associate professor of engineering Bryson Robertson says the announcement sends a strong signal to developers that the status is Open for business.

There are a lot of reasons why people and businesses see Oregon as a potential powerhouse on the West Coast, said Robertson, who co-directs the Pacific Marine Energy Center. I just think we need to make sure we identify, as Oregonians, how are we going to maximize that benefit for our supply chains, for our coastal communities, for everyone and do it in a reliable and responsible manner.

Oregon has some of the best wind resources in the country and already has a well-developed onshore wind industry, ranking ninth in the country for its production capacity. The swirling arms of the wind turbines are a familiar sight in the northwest to the east of the Cascades.

However, the supply of land for wind power development is limited and we have already reached the best spots in many parts of the country, Robertson said. Wind less than 5% of Oregon’s electricity mix in 2019.

As we start to hit those more aggressive and much needed renewable energy targets, said Robertson, we need to find different ways to generate electricity and different places to generate it.

The federal government is looking abroad. The wind is more constant at sea than on land. Offshore turbines can also be built much larger than their onshore cousins.

Oregon is well suited for offshore wind generation largely because of its existing electrical infrastructure, said Robertson, much of neighboring California and Washington which does not have one. Typically, utilities in Oregon generate electricity inland and deliver it to the coast via transmission lines.

There’s no reason we can’t somehow turn the tide and send it off the coast into the valley, Robertson said. We have that kind of electrical infrastructure to allow these companies to just need to get [power] at the shore.

He added that Oregon has fewer users such as military or commercial industries than other states competing for access to waters off its coast.

Work is already well advanced to bring the development of offshore wind power to Oregon.

In late summer, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an invoice start planning for offshore wind installations in federal waters to generate up to 3,000 megawatts by 2030, the target date of the Biden administrations.

Last week, two US Senators from Oregon, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, announced a $ 2 million grant to OSU to study the potential impacts of offshore wind developments on seabirds and marine mammals. Project leader Lisa Ballance, principal of Marine Mammal Institute schools, said the data collected as part of the survey will help the wind facilities at the Department of Energy’s site.

Our science is going to provide a lot of information for those decisions about where to locate these wind power platforms, Ballance said. This will allow the industry to make informed, much more informed decisions in the context of marine mammals and seabirds than if our research did not advance at all.

The federal government approved the first large commercial offshore wind farm be built off the coast of Massachusetts. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is actively reviewing plans to build and operate nine additional offshore wind developments across the country.

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