Sea Wind

Floating wind turbines, like these at a Hywind wind farm off the coast of Scotland, could be a potential huge industry for the coasts of Southern Oregon and Northern California.

What if the next big energy industry is right in our backyards? Creates thousands of family-wage jobs that will last forever? And for which the Oregon Coast already has the infrastructure in place?

Five entrepreneurial experts will discuss the opportunities and their vision for developing floating wind farms and the supporting infrastructure off the Oregon and Northern California coast at a free forum at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Hales Center for the Performing Arts at Southwestern Community College Coos Campus, located at 1988 Newmark Ave., Coos Bay.

The Pilot caught up with keynote speaker Michael Mitton, who described the wind farm project as a massive new economic opportunity for the port of Coos Bay and the region.

The Opportunity

“Utility scale solar and wind generation are now less expensive than new coal or gas plants,” Mitton said.

In Sept. 2018, California, the world’s fifth largest economy, passed legislation requiring that 100% of its electric power be carbon-free by 2045.

“However, land-use restrictions, real estate costs, increasing scarcity of prime sites and other factors will limit the build-out of California’s onshore wind and solar capacity,” Mitton said. “That opens the opportunity for offshore wind generation to fill the need.”

Milton explained that unlike offshore wind turbines on the East Coast, wind turbines on the West Coast would need to float and be anchored with a tether because of the ocean’s depth.

“The area with the highest energy potential on the entire West Coast is an offshore zone extending from Coos Bay 300 miles south into Northern California,” Mitton said.

Nearly all of the Southern California coast is off limits because of Navy requirements and natural resource reserves.

Coos Bay has the largest deep draft coastal harbor from San Francisco to Puget Sound, which would make it the perfect nucleus for development of the resource, according to Mitton. He described his vision of having jobs that are forever, unlike those that are associated with fossil fuels, which are a finite resource.

“Much of the economic benefit that results from floating offshore wind farms comes from activities that are all done in port — staging turbines and components, assembly, local fabrication of parts, maintenance and operations base,” he said.

According to Mitton, large scale wind turbine parts are so huge that they actually have to be shipped by sea and cannot be moved by land. Completed turbines would be towed offshore and anchored, and if needed could be towed back to port for major maintenance and upgrades,

Mitton said he sees urgency about developing the Coos Bay port project because “the first port that starts servicing the industry will have an advantage.”

He cited Oregon’s mature $15 billion marine construction industry, as well as several international players in offshore wind energy.

Even though MItton sees wind energy as a clean energy business that he said produces good paying, sustainable jobs and lowers electricity costs, he acknowledges that there are concerns with any new idea. We asked Mitton about some of the objections that could be raised.

  • They’re ugly. Mitton described one of the first projects on the West Coast that is working through the permitting process for a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management lease. It is about 20 miles offshore from Eureka. Previous offshore wind projects on the East Coast have met with resistance because of ocean views. However, a floating wind farm that’s 20 miles offshore would not be visible from shore.
  • Underwater high-voltage electrical cables. The idea of high-voltage electrical cables underwater sounds like a bad idea, but “submarine” cables actually been in use for more than 50 years, Mitton said.
  • Damage to ecologically sensitive environments/marine life. Offshore wind project investments are in the billions of dollars. Investors will need to comply with environmental impact statements and lengthy permitting processes. Mitton points out that the industry is already a mature industry in Europe, which allows investors here to benefit from research funds spent developing the technology, which also translates into a cost benefit for investors.
  • Wind doesn’t blow all the time. Wind energy would help balance out other generating sources, such as solar, Mitton said, because wind turbines produce clean energy after dark. Offshore wind turbines actually produce more consistently and operate more smoothly than land-based wind generation.

Meet the Panel Experts

Keynote speaker Michael Mitton says he sees climate disruption as a growing global threat but a unique opportunity for coastal Oregon to be a significant part of the solution and revitalize its economy in the process. Now retired, he was a founder and CEO of a biotech company. Over the past 20 years he has focused on climate-related issues including science, public policy and technology solutions. He has researched and compiled this economic development scenario for Coos Bay because he believes it can bring sustainable economic benefits to the region and help Oregon become a leader in this industry of the future.

Dennis Beetham (CEO DB Western Inc.) has over 50 years of experience in the fields of chemical, mechanical, nuclear, and electrical engineering. He has been involved in wind energy research and development for the last 20 years. In 2015, DB Western submitted a proposal to Principle Power Inc. to fabricate, construct and launch the Principle Power Windfloat Pacific Demonstration Project from Coos Bay, Oregon. Most recently, Beetham has been engaged with a Spanish University to help improve the engineering design for a U.S. West Coast spar/buoy system for larger turbines coming on the market. He maintains a strong belief in the future of Oregon and California offshore wind energy development, and it is this drive that keeps Dennis striving to improve the technology of floating offshore wind systems.

Shannon Souza is Oregon’s 2019 professional engineer of the year and is principal and founder of Sol Coast Companies. She has been instrumental in habitat restoration and conservation and public water supply development, for example installing over a megawatt of solar energy on the Oregon coast. She was Solar Oregon’s 2013 Solar Professional of the year, and a US Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional. Currently, Souza sits on the board of directors for the Professional Engineers of Oregon as well as serving as Policy Chair for the Oregon Solar Energy Industry Association.

Samuel Baugh started as the Executive Director for South Coast Development Council (SCDC) in August of 2017. As the Executive Director he feels a personal responsibility to grow the economy of Oregon’s south coast. The SCDC mission is to: Promote and support businesses that provide quality jobs through responsible development on Oregon’s south coast which includes focusing on sustainable industries being brought into the region. Earlier this year, Baugh won an award from the Governor’s office on tourism for its “Innovative Partnership.” Sam is excited to help the area grow and expand.

Samuel J. Schwarz is a local lifelong resident and as an entrepreneur, he has been operating multiple businesses with headquarters located on Front Street in Coos Bay. Schwarz  was awarded  a U.S. Patent in 2013 for a lighting device that combines energy efficient LED illumination with unique blown glass diffusion  and is underway with expanding manufacturing capacity of lighting fixtures in Coos Bay. Driven by a passion for technological advancements in energy infrastructure,  Schwarz  has gained years of extensive experience installing renewable energy systems on the Southern Oregon Coast and is very excited to explore the Offshore Wind potential for clean energy, job  security  and economic  stability  for  our community. 

For those not able to attend in person, thepresentation will be Livestreamed and archived, with access from the College's web site at  https://livestream.com/SWOCC/geology2019-20. For additional information, contact Ron Metzger at 541-888-7216.

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