A committee appointed by Gov. Kate Brown has begun work to figure out how to pay for what would be the first offshore wind project on the West Coast.
The Seattle-based company Principle Power needs a guaranteed stream of money from Oregon ratepayers to move forward with the pilot project known as WindFloat Pacific, which could have up to five wind turbines as tall as the Space Needle and cover as much as 15 square miles in the deep ocean off Coos Bay.
A bill in the state Legislature this year would have required investor-owned utilities to purchase power from the WindFloat Pacific project, but the legislation died amid opposition by utilities, a consumer group and industrial businesses. They argued that electricity from offshore wind costs three to four times more than from onshore wind. The commercial fishing and processing industries also opposed the bill and continue to raise concerns about the project.
Susan Chambers, a board member of the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition in Coos Bay and deputy director of the Portland-based West Coast Seafood Processors Association, said that during the committee’s first meeting in September, it sounded as though state officials were determined to find a way to fund the project.
“It doesn’t sound like there’s room for discussion at this point,” Chambers said. “That may change. But at this point, it sounds like we have to find a way to pay for this.”
Located in prime shrimp and rockfish areas
In written testimony on the bill to fund WindFloat Pacific earlier this year, the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition said Principle Power initially worked with the fishing industry to identify a location for the wind project. After the company received federal preliminary approval for a larger footprint, Principle Power moved the project site north within that area.
“The project is now located directly in prime shrimp and rockfish fishing areas utilized by several small businesses in Charleston,” the coalition wrote. “This action displaces traditional fishermen.” The project could also take over some of the area used by a fishing fleet whose members are based in Newport, Astoria and Seattle.
The pilot project was originally supposed to generate 30 megawatts of power, enough to serve 7,000 to 8,000 homes, according to news reports. However, Principle Power decided over the summer to downscale the project to at most 24 megawatts.
Under the terms of a $46.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Principle Power was supposed to have longterm agreements from Oregon utilities to purchase power from the project by July, company vice president Kevin Banister said during a legislative hearing in April. However, Banister said federal energy officials recognized the timeline was aggressive and would allow the company to retain the grant if it could demonstrate in some other way that Oregon is willing to pay for the project. Principle Power is working on the Oregon project with Deepwater Wind, the company building the first offshore wind project in the nation off the coast of Rhode Island.
‘Thinking of the fishing fleets’
State Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, attended part of the committee meeting at the Oregon Department of Transportation building in Salem.
“As we explore these new opportunities, we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to explore existing industries and minimizing potential conflicts there,” Gomberg said. “I’m thinking of the fishing fleets.”
Gomberg said the committee did not discuss the impact to fishermen while he was at the meeting.
The chairwoman of the governor’s committee, Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, did not respond to a request for comment. Banister, the Principle Power executive who is also a member of the committee, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is a member of the committee and said basic questions remained unanswered at the first meeting.
“If there’s a power purchase agreement, the question still remains: at what cost, to whom?”
Could tap Port of Astoria
Chambers said when House Bill 2216, sponsored by Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, was in the Legislature earlier this year, Chambers heard the tariff to subsidize the WindFloat project might have added as little as 35 cents a month to a residential ratepayer’s monthly bill. The cost would be more of an issue for businesses that use large amounts of power.
One way Principle Power could try to sweeten the deal in Johnson’s district would be to handle part of the assembly for the project in her district, at the Port of Astoria.
Mike Weston, director of business development and operations at the Port, said Principle Power approached the port four or five months ago to discuss possibly completing final assembly of the wind turbine structures in Astoria. The structures would be too tall to assemble in Coos Bay, because of the bridge that crosses the bay. “There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen,” Weston said. “For us, it’s kind of hypothetical at this point. It seems like a great concept, though.”
It is unclear when the committee will hold its next meeting. Although Brown’s office initially planned to keep the committee meetings private, the first meeting was packed, with some people even sitting on the floor. Spokesman Chris Pair said last week that future meetings will be open to the public.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.
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