A Seattle wind energy company and an Oregon port have won federal funding to move forward with the Northwest’s first test project for offshore wind energy.
Principle Power has received $4 million from the Department of Energy to complete its design for a floating wind power facility that could be anchored off the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay.
It would install 5 jumbo turbines on floating platforms about 15 miles off the Oregon coast.
It’s one of seven grants the federal agency awarded Wednesday to spur development of a fledgling U.S. offshore wind industry. Offshore wind platforms have been built of the coast of parts of Europe and Asia, but not yet in U.S. waters.
The Department of Energy also released two new reports analyzing the potential economic impact of offshore wind development.
The Coos Bay project would consist of five platforms outfitted with six-megawatt turbines. Elise Hamner, spokeswoman for the Port of Coos Bay, says the port can’t discuss the offshore wind proposal because it’s covered by a confidentiality agreement.
“A project like this would be that next step for Coos Bay. This is where we’re hoping to go,” she said.
It’s still unclear which, if any, of the seven grant-funded offshore projects will actually get built. In a press release, the Department of Energy says its aim is for some of the projects to be in commercial operation by 2017, and in a later phase it will provide up to $47 million to up to three of the projects for siting and construction costs.
Proponents of offshore wind say it’s an untapped resource and platforms can be located in deep water 10-15 miles offshore, beyond the horizon line visible from shore. Fisherman have raised concerns that offshore renewable energy development could limit their access to fishing grounds. The State of Oregon is nearing the end of a process to amend its territorial sea plan, designating some ocean waters for renewable energy development.
So far, most offshore wind turbines have been installed on pilings in shallow water off the coast of Europe, says Brian Pagye of Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center.
Renewable energy companies had to come up with a new design for the Northwest. The coastal waters here are too deep for pilings.
“The real ingenuity is having a stable floating platform to attach the turbine tower and the cell to,” Pagye says.
Polagye says in the future, offshore wind turbines could potentially generate more energy than onshore turbines, but adds with a laugh that futurecasting is a dangerous exercise.
“If you look at the overall wind resource, it’s tremendous,” he says. “But there’s a lot of marine engineering, economic, social and environmental challenges to actually trying to harness that resource the same way we’ve been able to harness onshore wind.