Posted on August 16, 2023
Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek is calling for more transparency from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as officials work to identify areas for potential offshore wind development off the state’s southern coast.
BOEM is identifying which sites may be best to build floating wind farms within two “call areas” covering 1,811 square miles of ocean near Coos Bay and Brookings.
In a letter sent Aug. 3 to agency director Elizabeth Klein, Kotek asked that BOEM hold a series of public meetings to share its draft wind energy areas and solicit feedback.
“While we understand that BOEM has met individually with community and tribal members in the interim, the broader public has not had access to BOEM’s proposed analysis of least-conflict wind energy areas, developed over the course of the last 16 months,” Kotek wrote.
The governor is also asking for BOEM to provide an update to the Oregon Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, which last met on Feb. 25, 2022. The task force includes representatives from nearly 50 state, local, federal and tribal agencies.
Paul Romero, a spokesman for BOEM, said the agency has not yet released its draft wind energy areas publicly and “does not traditionally respond to letters from elected officials through the media.”
This is not the first letter from Kotek to BOEM regarding offshore wind development. She also wrote the bureau on June 9, asking for a pause on identifying and leasing wind energy areas pending further analysis of environmental and economic impacts.
The Biden administration wants to deploy 30 gigawatts of renewable offshore wind energy by 2030 to slow the effects of climate change.
BOEM selected its two call areas off the southern Oregon coast in April 2022 based on nominations from four interested developers — Avangrid Renewables, BlueFloat Energy Oregon, OW North America Ventures and Mainstream Renewable Power Inc.
Coastal communities, tribes and commercial fishermen have raised concerns about the call areas, arguing that wind turbines will displace fishermen and damage the marine ecosystem.
Klein responded to Kotek’s first letter on July 10, saying that BOEM shares Oregon’s commitment to respond to local concerns.
The next step is to issue draft wind energy areas within the two call areas that “minimize potential impacts to ocean users and the marine environment and also have the greatest potential for commercial viability,” Klein said.
Draft wind energy areas are likely to be just 20% of the Coos Bay and Brookings call areas, Klein said, based on input and data from tribes, the commercial fishing industry, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard.
BOEM is currently only considering offshore wind leasing in water up to 1,300 meters deep. Beyond that, Klein said project costs increase incrementally because turbines would require longer mooring lines, potentially longer array cables and more difficult logistics in anchor installation.
“While future planning could include deeper waters, initial floating offshore wind projects must remain competitive with other renewable energy resources for commercial viability while considering other conflicting uses,” Klein wrote.
Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative based in Newport, Ore., praised Kotek and other state leaders for working to bring more attention to the offshore wind leasing process.
“It’s not a partisan issue,” Mann said. “It’s a really important issue about our future, not just for our renewables but for our ecosystem and food production.”
Nicole Hughes, executive director of Renewable Northwest, a Portland-based renewable energy advocacy organization, said she believes offshore wind is a viable option for Oregon’s energy portfolio but needs to be done in a way that considers all potential impacts.
“We’re pleased that Gov. Kotek has taken a leadership role in ensuring there is a robust stakeholder process going forward,” Hughes said.