PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Deepwater Wind has been working for years to develop what could be the first offshore wind farm on the East Coast of the United States. Now, the company is set to partner in a project that aims to be the first on the West Coast.
Deepwater, the Providence-based firm that is developing a demonstration wind farm off Block Island and planning a larger project in Rhode Island Sound, announced on Wednesday that it had reached an agreement to work with Principle Power, a Seattle company that has proposed building a 30-megawatt, five-turbine wind farm off the Oregon coast using floating platforms.
Under the agreement, Deepwater will become the project developer and will use Principle Power’s patented WindFloat technology, which has been tested in waters off Portugal. The partnership is attractive for Deepwater because Principle Power has developed the necessary technology. And for Principle Power, Deepwater brings experience in financing and in negotiating power-purchase agreements, which are key in attracting investors.
“Our agreement brings together accomplishments and expertise – Principle Power’s proven technology and Deepwater’s experienced energy team,” Principle Power CEO Alla Weinstein said in a statement.
The two companies had been in talks for a year or so, according to Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, and announced the agreement after the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the project up to $47 million in matching grants to support engineering, permitting and public outreach efforts.
Grybowski said the award of the federal money, which was announced earlier Wednesday, was a critical factor in the decision by the two companies to become partners in the WindFloat Pacific project.
“If there was no award, it would have been more challenging to proceed,” he said in an interview.
Floating platforms are crucial for offshore wind development on the West Coast because of the extreme depth of the waters. Deepwater’s five-turbine project off Block Island, which is aiming to be the first offshore wind farm on the East Coast, will be built in waters about 90 feet deep and will use more conventional steel-jacket foundations. In comparison, the waters off Oregon are about 1,000 feet deep, where fixed foundations are impossible to use, Grybowski said.
Just as Deepwater is trying to demonstrate that offshore wind power can be successfully developed on the East Coast, the aim of the Oregon project is to prove that it can be done in the more challenging waters off the West Coast.
“We think this could be a demonstration-scale project for the West Coast,” Grybowski said.
Unlike the East Coast, where several offshore wind farms are being developed, including the Cape Wind project off Massachusetts, WindFloat Pacific is the only offshore wind farm being planned on the West Coast.
The project is proposed for federal waters about 18 miles off Coos Bay, on the south coast of Oregon. In February, the federal Department of the Interior concluded that there was no interest from competing companies in the same area, a decision that clears the way for a lease to be issued for the project.
Principle Power was one of three floating-platform companies that had applied for grants from the Department of Energy and the only one to win financing. In 2011, the company successfully installed off the coast of Portugal a full-scale prototype of its floating platform with a 2-megawatt turbine mounted on top. The setup, which is connected to the local power grid, has been generating electricity for the past three years and is still in use.
Although other commercial-scale projects using floating platforms are being developed in Scotland and Japan, the Oregon wind farm, which is aiming for installation in 2017, could be the first in operation.
Grybowski said the pact positions his company as a national leader in the offshore wind industry.
“This project helps strengthen our company‘s long-term prospects,” he said. “We are not a one- or two-project company. We’re building out a company for the long term. I think this project solidifies our position in the U.S.”