Offshore wind energy on the Pacific Ocean has long been dismissed as a pipe dream due to the abrupt drop-off along the edges of its continental shelf.
But floating wind turbines could change that.
Trident Winds, a wind energy developer based in Seattle, submitted an unsolicited lease request Monday to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management to build a floating offshore wind farm — the state’s first — about 43 miles off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, near Grays Harbor.
The proposed site — dubbed the Olympic Wind project — would provide 2,000 megawatts of clean energy to 800,000 homes, according to the developer. If all goes the company’s way, construction would begin in 2028 and the wind farm would become operational in 2030.
After examining the request, the bureau could choose to invite other developers to vie for the site by issuing a request for interest, at which point the entire process will become competitive, like it did in California where Trident Wind applied for a lease for a similar project in 2016.
“The reason why we started to talk about ocean wind now and not 20 years ago — and not at the same time as the East Coast started to talk about ocean wind which was in the early 2000s — is because we didn’t have the technology,” said Alla Weinstein, founder and CEO of Trident Winds. In 2017, she was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council.
Weinstein said it’s difficult to know how many turbines could be built on the site because the technology is maturing so quickly. In 2016 the industry was talking about 8-megawatt turbines, she said, but now it’s looking at 15-megawatt turbines.
Principle Power — which was also founded and formerly led by Weinstein — submitted an unsolicited lease request for a wind farm off Oregon in 2013, but the project didn’t materialize after negotiations sputtered over the purchasing power agreement with the state and federal government.
Until recently, offshore wind turbines were most often built atop massive steel pillars or other structures that extended as deep as 100 feet into the ocean floor in some locations, as deep as 200 feet in others.
Using this technique on the Pacific Coast of the United States was impossible due to the sudden, deep drop from the continental shelf, which can reach a depth of more than 600 feet along stretches of California, Oregon and Washington.
That is, until recently, when new technology made it possible to install wind turbines on floating platforms tethered to the ocean floor that could be erected onshore and towed out to sea.
Offshore wind farms have been gaining momentum on the East Coast, but the floating sites proposed by Trident Winds — the Olympic Wind project in Washington and the Castle Wind project in California — would dwarf anything seen elsewhere in the country.
Deep waters and hesitation from the military have delayed several offshore wind projects on the West Coast. But in May 2021, the Navy stepped aside to allow the development of commercial offshore wind farms in two areas in Morro Bay and the coast of Humboldt in central and Northern California, respectively.
President Joe Biden has pushed aggressively for wind energy on the West Coast in the country’s bid to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change by eliminating net fossil fuel emissions. The decision to open the door for wind farms in California followed the Biden administration’s approval weeks earlier to build the country’s first commercial wind farm near the coast of Massachusetts.
As gas and oil prices soar, and the costs of renewable energy continues to decline, floating offshore wind energy could prove promising for the windswept waters of the Washington coast.