PORTLAND — A Seattle company is being given the green light to develop plans to build the West Coast’s first offshore wind energy farm — five floating turbines off Oregon’s Coos Bay, federal and state officials said Wednesday.
The 30-megawatt pilot project was announced at a news conference by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau.
Though offshore wind farms are an expensive source of energy, proponents say they could bring clean, efficient electricity, create jobs and stimulate the economy.
“It’s not going to be economic out of the gate,” Beaudreau said. But “it’s important for Oregon to be on the edge of what could be a huge industry in the future.”
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The pilot project will be developed by Seattle-based Principle Power using floating wind-turbine technology that has not been deployed in U.S. waters but is in use or under development in Europe and Asia.
The Oregon facility would be 15 miles from shore, in about 1,400 feet of water. The turbines would be connected by electrical cables and have a power cable to transmit electricity to the mainland.
The turbine towers would rise 600 feet to the highest point of the blade tip.
Several offshore projects are in the works on the Atlantic coast, but they don’t use floating-platform technology. Instead, they are anchored to the seabed.
Experts say the West Coast has not yet seen offshore wind projects because the technology needs are different.
The ocean gets deeper more quickly on the West Coast, so turbine towers cannot be planted directly into the seabed, said Belinda Batten, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University. Instead, companies need to use devices supported on floating platforms.
Another challenge in bringing the technology to Oregon, where cheap hydropower from dams is plentiful, is the price tag. But that should not be a deterrent, Batten said.
“We’re not as anxious to commercialize it, but it’s still worth getting the projects into the water and testing them,” she said. “As we learn how to deploy and maintain them, the price will come down.”
In December 2012, Principle Power received $4 million in Department of Energy funding for the project — one of seven to receive funding and the only one on the West Coast. The DOE plans to select up to three of the proposals to go forward with an additional $46.6 million.
The Seattle company submitted a request to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for a commercial wind-energy lease in May 2013. Since other developers were not interested in constructing wind facilities in the same area, the company may now submit a plan under the noncompetitive process. The federal agency will then complete an environmental analysis, which includes opportunity for public comment, before making a final decision.