A federal agency is planning some big things for offshore wind energy on the Oregon Coast.
In a June 23 presentation to the Curry County Board of Commissioners, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management outlined their process in identifying locations for some truly massive wind turbines — the largest of which are taller than the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument at more than 850 feet — not to mention the span of the whirling blades — which can be longer than a football field.
Although they are typically much larger, offshore turbines essentially work the same as onshore turbines. As wind causes the blades to spin, they produce kinetic energy, which is converted to electrical energy by a generator inside the turbine. The electricity is shuttled to an offshore substation through underwater cables, and then transported to an onshore substation, where it is finally distributed to homes and businesses.
Whitney Hauer, renewable energy specialist, said offshore wind turbines can produce more energy than landlocked turbines because the wind is stronger and more consistent.
In shallow water, turbines are secured directly to the ocean floor, but floating foundations are used in deeper waters. Hauer said floating offshore wind technology will most likely be used on the West Coast due to steep drop-offs along the continental shelf. Offshore turbines could be built anywhere from three to 300 nautical miles offshore.
In June of 2020, the state of Oregon and the BOEM committed to offshore wind energy planning.
Since then, the BOEM initiated a multi-year planning process, beginning with a mass data collection phase. They are looking at a wide variety of information, including potential human and environmental impacts, natural disaster risk — such as a tsunami — and wind speeds in particular locations, among many other data points. BOEM even tracks the unexploded weapons lingering in ocean waters along the West Coast; remnants of past wars, which either missed their target or were dumped.
If you are wondering, there are two relatively small “explosive dumping areas” about 100 miles West of Astoria, according to the West Coast Ocean Data Portal.
Hauer said BOEM is scouting the entire Oregon Coast for potential wind farm locations. On average, offshore wind speeds in Oregon are 15 miles per hour, according to the presentation. Although she said offshore wind in Southern Oregon is considered “world class,” at 22-23 mph, on average.
America’s first offshore wind farm is the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. There, five turbines create enough energy to power 17,000 homes in New England. Block Island finished construction in 2016 and came online shortly thereafter. There are more than 30 offshore wind projects across the U.S. in various stages of development, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
After data collection is finished, specific locations will be identified for wind farms, which is an array of turbines. Then, a plethora of environmental surveys will be conducted in those locations, and BOEM will purchase a lease from the state. After it assumes control, BOEM will issue more environmental surveys, including geological and biological surveys, and after extensive surveying, construction on a wind farm can finally begin.
Recently, Representative David Brock-Smith submitted a bill to the state legislature, which aims to establish three Gigawatts of commercial scale floating offshore wind energy projects within federal waters off the Oregon Coast by 2030.