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BOEM seeking ‘least conflict’ area for wind farm project 

Credit:  Current call areas, process protested by fishermen, but unlikely to change | Mathew Brock | News-Times | www.newportnewstimes.com ~~

Representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came face to face with members of the Oregon fishing industry Wednesday to answer questions about the controversial “call areas” that could one day house floating wind farms off the Oregon coast but would conflict with the area’s established fishing grounds.

The bureau announced three call areas off the Oregon coast in March – wide swathes of open ocean meant to be narrowed down in order to find the “least conflict” area possible to build an offshore wind farm. Those areas, since winnowed down to two off the coasts of Coos and Curry counties, drew immediate opposition from the fishing industry and coastal residents who believe any construction within those areas could have a significant negative impact on fishing grounds and the coastal communities that rely on them.

The current call areas make up around 1,800 square miles of open ocean, approximately a sixth of which could one day be leased to commercial energy companies to build a wind farm of floating turbines large enough to meet the state’s goal of producing 3 gigawatts of electricity from ocean wind by 2030. Once leased, the bid-winning company would need to propose a project and make it through up to a 10-year approval process that includes environmental and economic impact studies and multiple reviews by federal and state agencies.

While the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held several meetings and forums across the coast since the call areas were announced, Wednesday’s meeting at the Agate Beach Best Western in Newport was one of the first to give the spotlight to the fishing industry’s concerns while representatives from the bureau were in the room. Local elected officials and leaders in the fishing industry previously hosted their own forums to help fishermen become part of the public record, which the bureau did not attend.

According to the bureau’s regional director, Doug Boren, who attended the meeting via Zoom, the federal agency’s current goal is to find whatever part of the current call areas will cause the least amount of conflict with stakeholders. Boren stressed the most the agency can do is try to minimize conflict, as he doesn’t believe an area on the coast exists that both meets the project’s needs and doesn’t conflict at least somewhat with an existing fishing industry.

But attending members of the public and elected officials such as Rep. David Gomberg pressed Boren and members of the bureau for more information about the leasing process and why things are done the way they are.

Gomberg spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to summarize a four-page letter drafted by members of Oregon’s Coastal Caucus, which highlights some of the issues their constituents have brought to them.

“When the legislature considered House Bill 3375, they said, ‘Let’s talk about wave energy and if we’re going to do it here, let’s make sure we understand what it is we’re doing, who is affected, and what the consequences might be,’” Gomberg said before quoting portions of the bill that emphasize working with the public to minimize the conflicts between ocean energy, the environment and other industries utilizing the same space. “We want to understand what we’re doing, who it will affect and what the consequences might be.”

The Coastal Caucus’ letter asks the bureau to reconsider many parts of its current leasing process, including conducting environmental and economic studies for the selected call areas sooner in the process, considering new call areas further out at sea and overall, to slow down its process to better listen to and address the public’s concerns.

“Here are all these concerns, and you’ve heard all of these comments, and I will tell you candidly that I walked away with several clear impressions,” Gomberg said after the Q&A portion of the meeting concluded. “The first is that you’re moving very, very quickly and that you are moving in a direction that did not reflect the stated intention of desire for the state of Oregon.”

The representatives from the bureau did their best to answer questions throughout the meeting, and while they were able to elaborate on some of the crowd’s concerns, many questions were met with a familiar answer: that it’s too soon in the process to say.

When asked whether it might be feasible to move the project further out to sea, the bureau’s marine ecologist and fishing industry expert, Donna Schroeder, said part of the problem in changing the call areas is that it could greatly affect the commercial viability of the project.

When asked if the bureau had willingly or been forced to change call areas in the past, Schroeder said she knew there were occasions where it happened, but could not elaborate on them offhand, though she said she would research the topic. Schroeder did say most of the failed call areas were due to a lack of interest from developers, who after purchasing a lease, are responsible for arranging most of the environmental studies and working with stakeholders to reduce the impact of the project.

Earlier in the meeting, representatives from the bureau asked attending fishermen to help with the leasing process by going online to a map of the current call areas, where they can select portions and submit comments to help the bureau better understand where they were fishing and find the least impactful area. That request was chided throughout the meeting, the consensus of the crowd being that the bureau should already have all the data it needs to show the area wouldn’t be viable for a wind farm.

Another concern addressed was the eventual “cleanup” of the wind farm, both for when the lifespan of the turbines expires or if one were to break down. Schroeder said there are always provisions requiring companies to dismantle their facilities when the time is right and have insurance to cover the cost, even if the company were go bankrupt or dissolve.

Gomberg asked where energy from the wind farm would go, another question the representatives from the bureau could not reliably answer, though they said its likely most would go to the local grid, while some could end up powering parts of California.

As the four-hour meeting drew to a close, few attendees from the fishing industry were enthused about the bureau’s responses.

“We heard BOEM state today that they don’t know the economic impacts from fishery displacement nor the downstream effects on coastal communities,” said Dan Waldeck, of the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative. “BOEM doesn’t know the environmental impacts to fish stocks, protected resources, nor the CCE; BOEM doesn’t know how critical fisheries research will be disrupted or lost; BOEM doesn’t know how OSW arrays will affect safety and life at sea; BOEM doesn’t know where the power will go nor what it will cost consumers.”

“Under all of that uncertainty, BOEM has not said that they will slow down to provide time to collect the necessary data and analyze these impacts,” Waldeck continued. “It appears the process will move forward, solely under BOEM’s discretion. What concerns all of us is that BOEM is not mandated to avoid and minimize these impacts nor are they required to account for them. BOEM is only required to ‘consider.’ Given the enormity of what is at stake, that is not enough.”

While local and state opposition for the project is growing, there are changes at the federal level that have the potential to sink the bureau’s plans. According to an MSN article by Ben Adler, provisions added in the latest iteration of the annual Coast Guard authorization could also grind ocean wind farm projects across the country to a halt by requiring crews on the boats that install turbines to be crewed only by U.S. workers or workers from the vessel’s country of origin. Since the construction of wind farms in the U.S. relies heavily on foreign expertise, such a provision could cripple efforts nationwide.

Source:  Current call areas, process protested by fishermen, but unlikely to change | Mathew Brock | News-Times | www.newportnewstimes.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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