Study makes case for Oregon offshore wind power

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Posted December 5, 2019

Wind power off Oregon’s coast is expected to be dramatically less expensive in 2030 than it was a few years ago, when lawmakers balked at above-market prices from a proposed federally backed pilot project.

In a new study, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated the levelized cost of energy from a 600-megawatt commercial project off Coos Bay would come in at $63 per megawatt-hour. That’s less than a third of the $197 cost of power from a 24-megawatt project that died in 2016.

Oregon's deep Pacific Ocean waters would require floating wind energy technology, which is “nascent” but advancing quickly, the report said. Strong winds around 20 miles offshore, where the turbines would likely be cited, make the South Coast in particular attractive for the technology.

‘The prospects for offshore wind in Oregon look promising for large-scale electricity generation,” the report said. “Floating technology is maturing rapidly, and offshore wind can provide a carbon-free alternative electricity source in coastal regions, especially in the southern region where offshore annual average wind speeds are … among the highest in the United States.”

In the study, the commercial project did better than the pilot project in part because of its larger scale, but continuing industry advances were also major factors, the study said.

Projects that will go into service in 2025 in Europe, where offshore wind power is common, will be 65 percent less expensive than 2017 projects, it noted.

Ever larger turbines are one significant driver of lower costs. The WindFloat pilot project was expected to use 6-megawatt turbines. That's big — about three times as powerful as the typical land-based turbine operating in the Columbia River Gorge — but 10-megawatt turbines are already being deployed and by 2030, turbines that can generate 15 megawatts of power are expected.

While the report builds a case for wind power off Oregon’s coast, the East Coast is where the main offshore wind action is in the United States now. Several projects are planned, although recent moves by the Trump administration have stalled progress.

On the West Coast, California, with its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, is exploring the possibilities.

Principle Power, the company that was behind the WindFloat project, has joined with several other industry players to form the Offshore Wind California coalition, which is aiming to have 10 gigawatts — 10,000 megawatts — of wind power installed by 2040. (For comparison, that's about three times the installed land-based wind power in Oregon today.)

When Principle Power was pursuing the Oregon project, PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric, the Citizens’ Utility Board and Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities all lobbied against legislation that would have required the utilities to buy the power it produced. They estimated the cost at three to four times that of land-based wind power.

Source: Portland Business Journal