Few dispute the need to develop alternative ways to generate electricity that don’t produce greenhouse gases, but our local response to a proposed floating offshore wind farm isn’t a straightforward “yes.”
Similar complications arise regarding floating wind turbines off the southern Oregon coast. These prompted the Astoria City Council and the Port of Astoria Commission to recently ask the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Oregon Department of Energy to take their time before granting permission. Clatsop County officials want a demonstration project before grander plans are authorized, along with a full-scale environmental impact analysis.
In Washington, the development being pursued by Seattle-based Trident Winds is generating misgivings among some current users of offshore waters, who fear the wind farm located about 45 miles west of the mouths of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor – and the cables linking it to the shore – could be one more blow to fisheries and the environment.
To put these concerns in a historical context, hydropower development in the 20th century in the Columbia River watershed came with many promises about preserving salmon runs and small-town economies. We all know how that turned out.
Far from being a vast, little-used zone, the current context of offshore development is that many industries and species live in or travel through the proposed wind farm sites. As reported in the Astorian regarding the two locations west of Coos Bay and Brookings, commercial fishermen and processors have legitimate worries.
“Most fishermen, when they head out to go fishing, love to take a left turn and head south. Some of those fishing grounds that are in those two call areas are our prime fishing grounds for a number of fisheries,” Lori Steele, the executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, said.
The wind farm north of the Columbia would further impinge on fishing activities already seriously constrained by the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary, tribal fisheries and other factors. For the coast’s diminishing number of commercial fisher folk, talk of yet another competitor for ocean space is cause for justifiable anxiety.
Astoria City Councilor Tom Hilton spoke to this concern. “I don’t think we should have one of those off our coast at all. The privatization of the ocean is what we’re looking at. It will definitely devastate commercial fishing.”
Aside from economic considerations, it’s worth noting that keystone species including blue and fin whales spend time in these Pacific Northwest waters, along with more common but no less charismatic humpback and gray whales. In the absence of an intense environmental impact study, we simply won’t know what giant turbines would do to marine species large and small.
Such a study will be difficult, considering the fact that our outer waters are periodically wracked by violent cyclonic storms for months during the late fall and winter. These storms and the powerful atmospheric rivers that smash into us several times a year will require spectacular feats of engineering for at-sea structures to survive.
Weighed against all this, the Seattle Times reports the proposed Olympic Wind project would provide 2,000 megawatts of clean energy to 800,000 homes, according to Trident Winds. Construction could begin in 2028, with power generation starting in 2030. Relatively clean electricity on such a scale is a huge enticement to national politicians – including President Joe Biden – and to some in the environmental community.
Coastal communities must become fully engaged in understanding these plans. The Seattle Times reports the the Olympic Wind project in Washington and the same company’s Castle Wind project in California “would dwarf anything seen elsewhere in the country.”
Too often in the past, coastal concerns have been bulldozed aside to serve the interests of Seattle and Washington, D.C.
So yes, we understand the need for clean power. But if a big chunk of it is going to be built just out of sight on our western horizon, we deserve to have seats at the table where these decisions are being made, and a strong voice in whether they happen at all. We’re nobody’s peons or colony.
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