Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, along with six state agencies, declared their support this week for the federal government’s proposal to allow floating offshore wind energy projects off Oregon’s south coast, despite mixed feelings from local communities, the fishing industry and Native American tribes.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s draft floating offshore wind energy area’s public comment period came to a close Tuesday. The proposal, which has identified more than 200,000 acres off the coast in Southern Oregon for potential floating offshore wind turbines, has settled on two areas that might fit the bill near Coos Bay and Brookings.
Kotek and the state agencies that would regulate the developments submitted comments to the federal bureau that asked for more research on cultural, environmental, and marine and land species impacts. Some comments also requested the federal bureau only build the smallest number of turbines needed to test the project before a full roll out.
The comments also called for a better understanding of where the undersea cables that would carry generated electricity would go, and for more meaningful engagement with local tribes.
“These comments demonstrate the depth and breadth of our state agency expertise in Oregon’s coastal communities, marine ecosystems, energy needs, and territorial seas,” Kotek said in a cover letter for the agency comments. “My administration is committed to continuing to work with BOEM to incorporate the broader feedback and analysis provided during this public comment period, and we look forward to that conversation soon.”
As the push to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy continues, Oregon electric utilities say floating offshore wind turbines is necessary to boost Oregon’s renewable energy portfolio and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from those utilities by 90% by 2035. But the federal government’s draft proposals for two areas in Southern Oregon have gotten pushback from the public, with nearly 750 public comments submitted before the Tuesday deadline.
In June, after hearing concerns from local community members, Kotek and other state leaders asked the federal bureau to pause the draft proposal process to allow for more time for local community and Tribal government input. Kotek said the federal government needed to be transparent with locals and communicate in a way that was easily understood.
The agency extended the public comment period twice, with the latest extension ending on Oct. 31.
Despite that extension, a September meeting between bureau officials and community members devolved into pointed questioning and critiques of the process, according to The Coos Bay World.
The project does have supporters. Several public comments filed ahead of Tuesday’s deadline said there is a need to transition from fossil fuels. Others, like union workers, said the proposal would bring good paying jobs and help boost the local economy.
But other commenters said they still oppose the proposal in its current state.
The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians passed a resolution opposing the proposals just days before the end of the public comment period.
According to their resolution, “BOEM has continually failed to engage in meaningful government to government consultation with the Tribe and has failed to ensure that impacts from offshore wind energy development to Tribal cultural resources, including fisheries and viewsheds, are avoided or mitigated to the satisfaction of the Tribe.”
Curry, Coos and Douglas County commissioners all passed resolutions opposing the proposals.
Douglas County commissioners said the project “could potentially have drastic impacts” on the fishing industry, endangered species and residents of the county.”
If approved, the proposals would lock in geographically where floating offshore wind turbines could be built. The federal bureau would still need to conduct an environmental assessment after Oregon’s own review, which would ensure Oregon’s interests are taken into account when the federal government proposes a project.