Think Out Loud

As the US explores building offshore wind farm in Oregon, concerns arise

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Sept. 28, 2022 4:26 p.m. Updated: Sept. 28, 2022 7:49 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Sept. 28

Nick Edwards has been a fisherman since he was 18. He currently owns the F/V Carter Jon. He believes that offshore wind could have unintended consequences for the fishing industry and environment.

Nick Edwards has been a fisherman since he was 18. He currently owns the F/V Carter Jon. He believes that offshore wind could have unintended consequences for the fishing industry and environment.

Dave Miller / OPB


The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently looking into the possibility of wind farms in Oregon. There are two areas of interest: Coos Bay and Brookings. The hope is that offshore wind in Oregon could provide about three gigawatts of energy, which can power about a million homes. But in Coos Bay, the proposed site is drawing concerns from the fishing industry. Nick Edwards is the owner of the F/V Carter Jon. He’s arguing the locations would eliminate fishing in those areas and worries the windmill turbines would harm the marine ecosystem. Edwards joins us to share his thoughts on the project. We’ll also hear from Doug Boren, the Pacific Regional Director for BOEM. He tells us where Oregon is in the process and addresses some of the concerns.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. When we were in Coos Bay two weeks ago, we spent a morning with a fisherman named Nick Edwards. He’s been in the industry for 42 years now and he owns his own boat. We met up with him at the Charleston Marina where his fishing vessel, Carter John was docked. It’s a 78 foot, 100 ton trawler. He uses it for Dungeness crab and Oregon pink shrimp. We met up because we wanted to talk about the possibility of a major offshore wind farm. Nick is one of many people in the area who’s worried about what it could mean for both the fishing industry and for the ecosystem. In a few minutes we’ll hear from the federal agency that manages offshore leases,

but first we’re going to bring you a conversation we recorded at a table in the galley of Nick’s boat. I started by asking him about an offshore wind project that came close about a decade ago, but was never built.

Nick Edwards: That was a two-megawatt turbine that was going to go on the wind float, and a wind float is basically a tripod, and it’s about, you know, 150 feet apart and they’re, they support this turbine right here and then the pylon that goes up that holds the turbine. So that was, this is in Portugal. So as you can see, that’s probably about maybe 500 feet tall or 400 feet tall. So that was 13, well, what, 10, 11, 12 years ago?

Dave Miller: That was a proposal that never happened.

Edwards: It went through the lease process with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, but then you have to have a ‘purchase and power’ agreement. And so I was on the Wind Float Advisory Committee, appointed by the Governor for this, and we had to find out the reasons why it would be good for Oregon and why it would be bad for Oregon. There was about seven of us on there, and what it was is the power utility companies that for a Research and Development Project, they weren’t willing to pass on the high cost of power to their customers. So it wasn’t because the fishing industry was held hostage because of it, we were gonna lose valuable fishing grounds, it was because the power was going to be too high for their customer base.

Miller: So how does this, at the scale of that project that never, never happened, how does it compare to the ones being proposed right now?

Edwards: Back in New York right now, they’ve had, I think there was five or six leases that they had and they went up for auction. First time ever. I think it’s $4.7 billion for those areas. And they’re off of Rhode Island and New York, the areas there. They’re going to be attached to the bottom of the sea bed floor by steel, and with foundations, while floating offshore wind means floating, so it goes further offshore and you float it basically on pontoons or it’s basically a barge, but a cylinder barge, and there’s like a tripod on it and then the cylinder that goes up and holds the turbine and then the blade gets mounted to the turbine. So here’s a picture of the new Vespas V-236 which is a 15 megawatt turbine. The ones that were proposed here, you know, 10 years ago was a two megawatt turbine. So imagine what it’s gonna look like 10 years from now when actually something might go into the Pacific Ocean or on the East Coast, they’re gonna be much larger. But this one has the wing diameter of 774 feet. You put it on the platform of the wind float, you’re gonna have something that’s a structure that’s about 800 feet tall. That’s three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Miller: And how many could there be?

Edwards: Depending on what the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management leases, they will go as large as they can to get the largest turbines on there to produce the most power. It would be hard saying what it would be like,

you know, 8, 10 years from now, but 800 feet tall, if they wanted to have a three megawatt project off of Coos Bay here, probably 300 square miles just off the top of my head, each one of these turbines will be spaced about a mile apart. They would have four embedments, not three, but I’m hearing now that there would be four embedment anchors. Each one of those embedment anchors are about 50 tons, there’ll probably be a lot larger than that with the new generation. So you’re taking…you’re taking up valuable fishing grounds that are in the most productive ecosystems in the world, being the California Current.

And these will be, these embedment anchors will be there permanently. If they’re allowed to happen, they’ll be there permanently until the end of time. They’re not gonna come off the bottom of the ocean. So we’ll never be able to fish there ever again. So you have miles and miles of chain, miles of cable and you’re gonna electrify the seabed floor with high voltage current: it’s ‘What could possibly go wrong,’ right? That’s what I asked myself the Columbus Day Storm where it blew, you know, 120 miles an hour, you know, 30 foot seas, we see that, you know, 100 mile an hour winds, 60 mile an hour winds for, you know, 10 days straight. And you often wonder, we can’t keep a weather buoy attached to the bottom. how are you going to keep these attached to the bottom?

Miller: Huh.

Edwards: So can you imagine the domino effect of 100 or 200 of these breaking free?

Miller: You’re saying there could be 100 or 200, 800 foot tall turbines. There could be that many?

Edwards: There could be, yes. Can you imagine, you know, Dave, we’re thinking 10 years down the line. Right?

That’s a big change from what we see right now. And right now there’s eight megawatt turbines that are industrial, but this one’s just coming out of Denmark right now.

Miller: Are you against offshore wind power, no matter what? Or are you saying this isn’t the right place for it?

Edwards: We have one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. It’s called the California Current. So there’s one of five of them in the world. Right? So think of the ecosystem as a conveyor belt. So you have all these nutrients, you have the phytoplankton, which is the plant-based, then the zooplankton that eats the plant-based, then you have the salmon and the foraging fish on the sardines that eat all this and the whales. Right. So you’re putting something in this ecosystem that, with the wind wake, you could permanently change the path of the California Current, and that feeds a huge base of the rich Pacific Ocean, which is, you know, the largest volume fishery we have, which is the whiting fishery.

Miller: I want to make sure I understand, because before, I thought that the biggest issue you were worried about was that with the infrastructure necessary, to put all these in place, you couldn’t fish there. And so I thought this was largely a question of having really good productive fishing areas taken out of fishing production. It seems like you’re actually saying that the issue is bigger than that this infrastructure would change the ocean in a way that would disrupt this massive current system. Do I have that right?

Edwards: Absolutely. And there’s been webinars on that … I think, down in California … on Upwellings and Curlings upwellings and how the nutrients, you know, feed this big biomass. What I wanted to tell you, is that with the five ecosystems in the world, right? Twenty percent of the total global supply of seafood is caught in those five ecosystems with only 2% of the ocean. So imagine 100% of the ocean, only 2% have these natural upwelling ecosystems. Why would you ever change mother nature in the name of climate change?

Miller: So if I understand you correctly, you’re basically saying that off the coast of Oregon, there’s no good place to put wind there, because this is too important in terms of fishing and the marine ecosystem, right?

Miller: Or else you’re going to go 100 miles offshore. How far would you say, is ‘okay?’

Edwards: Well, that’s what we don’t really know, but what we know for sure…if we’re going to put them in 700 fathoms and in, which is basically 1,300 meters and in, you’re gonna be right in the middle, right off the Coo Bay, here, in the middle of the California Current. This is where the most wind is. That’s where all the nutrients, you know, get, they get carried through the current. And when you have the wind wakes, you know, that would take this and change the path of how the California Current works, why…where’s the research on that? BOEM did not, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not do any research on this whatsoever. We have said this all along, that we’re not opposed to offshore wind, but we’re opposed to the current ‘call areas’ that BOEM’s put out. We didn’t get to sit down with them. You know, it was, ‘Check the box,’ with everything that we did, with two years of meetings and still BOEM is moving forward. They didn’t take our Governor’s advice. They didn’t take Senator Merkley or Senator… or Congressman Defazio’s advice. And when you have the California Caucus and everybody saying the same thing, ‘Move these out to 1,300 meters and beyond, not 1,300 meters in.’ So, like what we have on the Central Atlantic, I think it was April 27th of this year, the four call areas came out in what Virginia, North Carolina that I told you about, they’re 56 miles offshore, in 1,300 meters, which is about 700 fathoms, out to 2,500 meters, which is 1,400 fathoms. Their offshore wind farms are going to be 56 miles offshore at the deepest; ours is going to be 30 miles offshore at the deepest. So it’s…another 26 miles offshore would have a, you know, a more…it would be more beneficial to the fisheries in the existing user group, it’s ocean, its inhabitants, to move these further offshore. The problem is there…the technology. There’s only about three or four developers that, out of 20, have the technology to go out to that depth. BOEM has basically tied, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has basically tied other developers’ hands from going further offshore, because there’s no chance for them to lease outside of 1,300 meters because BOEM has put these inside of 1,300 meters and in. So basically 500 meters to 1,300 meters is a sweet spot, which I think where they’ll probably end up leasing these, right in the middle of the California Current and one of the most productive fisheries in the world happened right here.

Miller: We’re at a time right now when a number of members of the Oregon delegation are all saying versions of what you’re saying, ‘We want you to reconsider this, we want you to to push this further out.’ What are the next steps before this would actually become a reality?

Edwards: So Amanda Lefton, the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told us in the meeting, in Coos Bay, here, ‘Listen, if Oregon doesn’t want this, we’ll reevaluate and we’ll listen to you guys.’ They haven’t listened so far. But you look at all the Congressional delegation that says, ‘Hey, you’re not, this isn’t done the Oregon way. You have not vetted the Tribes. You have not vetted the fishing industry.’ They can say they did, but…

Miller: In a press release, they said, ‘We’re thrilled that… to be doing this, after all kinds of conversations with Tribes with fishermen, with industry, with elected leaders.’ I mean that’s what they wrote in the press release.

Edwards: Yeah, but that’s lip service. I’ve lived it, for two years. There’s been no honest engagement with any of us and there’s a reason why. BOEM leases land, and we feed the world. And food security is a huge thing. USDA, this year, they bought 30 million pounds or $30 million of our Oregon seafood products, our Pacific whiting or Oregon rockfish or Oregon pink shrimp is now food security for USDA. Last year they bought $20 million worth of our seafood. I mean, food security is gonna be a huge thing moving forward.

Miller: Where do you see the effects of climate change as a fisherman?

Edwards: You see it every day. You see that we go through having El Ninos to La Ninas. But when you’re changing an ecosystem because of climate change and not knowing what the full impact of that could be catastrophic. Let me put it this way to you. So we’ve put in dams and hydro and the dams, with the unintended consequences of the Pacific Salmon. So now the Governor of California has taken the dams out in California on the Klamath River to restore the salmon runs. I don’t want offshore wind to be the unintended consequence of Oregon’s California Current and our West Coast seafood industry, we can’t let that happen. And we all have to coexist.


Miller: That was Nick Edwards, the owner of the fishing vessel, Carter John; we talked two weeks ago when we were in Coos Bay. I’m joined now by Doug Boren. He is a Pacific Regional Director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Doug Boren, welcome.

Doug Boren: Thanks. Great to be here.

Miller: What stage is the agency in right now- is this whole process in right now, in terms of the overall process of having offshore wind actually be installed off of Oregon’s coast?

Doug Boren: Actually, we’re in the very beginning stage of this; you know, we do have a four stage process that goes from, you know, through leasing, to plan approvals, to site assessment, you know, all the way through to operations. And I can say that we’re in the beginning phase; what we’ve done thus far as we’ve had a call for information and nomination. So we did go out with ‘call areas,’ you know, off Coos Bay and off Brookings, so, you know, we wanted to, and, really it’s the first step, so we had large call areas so that we could collect more data and information on the specific areas.

Miller: What is a ‘call area?’

Boren: The call area is just a step in the process. So we have these larger call areas so we can collect more data information. Our intent is that we will whittle those areas down into smaller areas that are more appropriate for leasing, moving forward to the next phase in the process.

Miller: And right now it has been narrowed down to broadly two big areas, past Brookings and past Coos Bay, is that right?

Boren: That is correct. We have larger areas and just to give it a little bit of perspective, the current call areas that we have could accommodate up to 17 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity. And, you know, we’re in, working in partnership with the state of Oregon, we’re looking to whittle those down to, you know, three gigawatts if there’s areas appropriate for that.

Miller: What does three gigawatts mean?

Boren: It’s really just the calculation, we use a three megawatts per square kilometer calculation, that’s just an estimate of what could be out there when you’re looking at the amount of area on the OCS [Offshore Construction Specialists]. But we really wouldn’t know what it would exactly translate to those areas until we get a construction operation plan, to see what can actually be engineered to fit into that space.

Miller: I guess my question could have been interpreted two ways and I actually turns out I’m interested in both of the versions of it. I was thinking first about end users, what does three gigawatts of electricity translate to in terms of, say, homes?

Boren: Okay, great. Three gigawatts again, this is another calculation that we have, and I just wanted to say we use this calculation on the long side, but I wanted to point to our friends at the National Renewable Energy end, because they’re really the technical experts on any of the technical questions. But I can say from our, what we calculate is approximately 350 homes per megawatt, so three gigawatts would be 3,000 MW, which translates into just over a million homes that could be powered from this.

Miller: And then it seems like you were saying, so that’s that’s the hope – that it will be narrowed down, and that when all is said and done, floating wind turbines, enough to power a million homes, could be floating off the Oregon coast. But it seems like what you’re saying is, you’re not sure right now how many of those turbines would actually be floating there, to actually achieve the three gigawatts?

Boren: That’s another, we won’t know specifics until we get the construction operation plan, which is much further down in the process, but to give a ballpark, I think we’re looking at probably 15 megawatt turbines, so individual turbines. I think they’ll be available by 2024 is what’s expected, or even sooner. So that would be in the right timeframe for offshore Oregon. So three gigawatts with the turbine that size would be approximately, just doing the math calculation, 200 turbines off the coast.

Miller: So that is along the lines of, of what Nick Edwards was talking about and was, I should say, fearful of, as we heard. And would these be 800 foot tall turbines, potentially?

Boren: That is correct. They are large machines, you know, 15 MW per machine is pretty big and it’s really the windswept area, so the blade tip is approximately 800, 850 feet.

Miller: Let’s turn to some of the specific concerns that we all just heard, starting with this California Current. Nick Edwards called this one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. His big thing was that we need to make sure we’re not going to disrupt either the ecosystem or the industry, given how productive it is. Where does the research stand in terms of the effects that a big array of floating turbines would have on this kind of ecosystem?

Boren: Nick’s correct. There is a study that was commissioned by the State of California to look at the California Current here in California, and I’ll say the study is not complete, it’s still being reviewed, but the initial indications are that there could be an impact to the potential for the upwelling. I’ll say that in the study, the size that could have the potential impact to upwelling was over twice the size of what we’re looking at for Oregon for the three gigawatts. It is something that came up and I just wanted to say that the Bureau has a robust studies program. So we know that this is a question that’s out there and we’re already developing a study so that we can look at not only is there going to be an impact on upwelling, but is there going to be an ecological impact due to any of the potential impacts of upwelling. So it is something that we’re taking seriously, you know, and we’re like I said, our robust studies program, so we can look at that so we can get answers- we have to make decisions in the future.

Miller: What level of environmental impact study has to be conducted before these sites can be approved and before leases can actually be signed?

Boren: As I said earlier, we have a multi-step process. In the first phase for lease issuance we typically do an environmental analysis of the area and what we’re really looking at is just the impact of lease issuance and site assessment and site characterization activities. So really it’s a minimal impact. And then once we issue the leases and lessees can do the surveys and collect more information and develop their plans. We know exactly what they’re going to do. We get a construction operation plan and then we’ll do the full blown EIS neighbor review of the projects when they come in.

Miller: So if I understand it correctly, it seems not just possible but likely, that you could go forward with the lease and then after that a project could still be stopped if, after the lease were signed, the environmental impact statement found that there would be too much of an impact on the ecosystem?

Boren: That is correct, yes. Our lease just to reiterate our lease does not authorize construction of anything. It just authorizes a lessee to do the studies necessary to develop a plan and submit the plan to the Bureau so that we can evaluate the plan and make a decision in the future.

Miller: The biggest point that Nick Edwards and others made is about depth, which is closely tied to distance away from the shore. He said in short, put this 1,300 meters of depth and beyond, not more shallow. What would that mean in terms of the economics of a lease?

Boren: I’ll say that for Oregon, 1,300 meters floating technology is out there. 1,300 meters is really pushing the limits of where the technology is now. This is in consultation with the National Renewable Energy Lab to look and see where the technology is at. So 1,300 meters is really pushing the limits, in particular off the coast of Oregon, 1,300 meters also corresponds to a steep drop off off the coast. So it goes from 1,300 meters to 2,500, 3,000 meters quite quickly, so that slope is another factor and they’re not just water depth and distance from shore. So I think that from the perspective now, the 1,300 meters is where the technology is at. In the future, I think that maybe it could go deeper, but right now 1,300 is kind of actively wanted, to have a project that can move forward.

Miller: The beginning of my conversation with Doug with Nick, we focused on this much smaller pilot project where a lease was approved and then the operators eventually said, ‘No, this is not going to pencil out, it’s gonna be too expensive for our customers.’ That was something like a decade ago, and it was a smaller scale. I’m curious, the extent to which the economics of the grid and electrical generation and the price, I guess of these floating wind systems, if it’s changed enough that broadly, this kind of project does make economic sense right now for a company?

Boren: I will say that there are economies of scale, so a smaller project and, I’m familiar with what Nick brought up earlier, with the wind float project, and yes, ultimately it was that the price of the power didn’t pencil out and they couldn’t get a power purchase agreement. But like these bigger projects, typically the larger they are, the more economic that they are, I’d say that Department of Energy just had an earth shot announcement looking at floating wind specifics to bring the cost of offshore wind down, similar to what’s happened onshore, but I think at the end of the day, BOEM can lease the areas, we can get the construction operation plans, but they still have to be economic because there’s going to need to be someone purchasing the power onshore to make the projects go forward.

Miller: And finally, we’ve been focusing for obvious reasons on what happens offshore. But what about onshore? I mean, if let’s say the three gigawatt projects were to go forward and 200 turbines were floating and collecting electricity off the coast and then wires were bringing it somewhere onshore in Oregon. How much would the Oregon grid need to be beefed up to actually transmit that electricity to the overall grid?

Boren: I’ll just reiterate that, you know, BOEM does make areas available offshore. We are in consultation with the state and to do studies to see exactly what would take place. I can say that the Oregon coast, generally speaking, you know, electricity goes from the I-5 corridor out to the coast. So there would need to be transmission upgrades to bring, you know, three gigawatts of power to the grid. But I don’t know exactly what kind of upgrades that it would take, no.

Miller: It sounds like what you’re saying is, ‘We deal with the water, somebody else is gonna have to deal with the land.’

Boren: I think that that’s probably the correct assessment.

Miller: Doug Boren, thanks very much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Boren: Hey, great, no problem. Glad to be here.

Miller: Doug Born is the Pacific Regional Director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

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