After a federal agency announced three areas off the Oregon coast could one day be home to power-generating wind farms, it faced a surge of opposition from local and state fishing industry groups who believe such facilities could threaten their livelihoods and the environment.
During a Feb. 25 meeting, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management unveiled three areas encompassing a combined 2,181 square miles of ocean off the coast of Coos, Douglas and Curry counties that it has designated as potential wind farm locations.
The three proposed locations are referred to by the BOEM as “call areas” and serve to help identify general areas on the Oregon coast that would make good candidates for wind farm facilities. According to BOEM Public Affairs Specialist John Romero, these areas aren’t all necessarily slated for development, and it’s likely that only select portions would see turbines go up once leased and approved.
In 2021, Oregon legislators passed House Bill 3375 and set a goal to establish at least 3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy production by 2030. If the entirety of the call areas were filled with turbines, it would generate around 17 gigawatts. Romero said it’s far too soon in the process to know the scope of construction, but he expects that 3 gigawatts would remain the target number, requiring only a fraction of the currently outlined space.
“We’re taking public input to determine whether these areas are appropriate, where we might be able to winnow them down and maybe even exclude certain portions,” Romero said. “Now we’re collecting formal comment to help BOEM in the next phase called early identification, which looks at all the data we collect, all the research and public input to identify the best wind energy areas.”
As for what the facility itself would look like, Romero said it’s too soon to even get an idea, and establishing the call areas is only the first step in what could be a decade-long approval process before construction can begin.
A timeline provided by BOEM states that now that the call areas are designated, the next six months will be spent in the early identification stage. After that, BOEM will begin the process to develop leases and put them up for auction for interested companies, a process that could take more than two years from start to finish.
When a lease is finally granted, more comprehensive environmental assessments and surveys are required that could take up to five years to complete, after which a review period begins that could take another two years. Only then could a construction plan be submitted and reviewed for final approval.
A comparable project, the PacWave wave energy research facility currently being constructed off the coast of Lincoln County, took roughly 10 years to receive final approval after beginning the process in 2011.
Even with potential construction up to a decade away, the Oregon fishing industry already has concerns about the areas BOEM selected.
A group of 10 fishing industry groups released a joint press release after BOEM’s announcement, arguing that its proposed call areas intersect with multiple areas used by Oregon fishers, including Dungeness crab, pink shrimp and whiting areas. Said groups include the Dungeness Crab Commission, the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition, the Oregon Trawl Commission and the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.
In the release, the fishery groups argue that the BOEM’s plan to only do basic environmental studies of the area before leasing it to companies and then require comprehensive environmental studies later on in the process is reckless, and it would only serve to force companies to make major investments into the locations before potential problems could be identified.
“The effect of offshore wind development on fisheries, the habitat and the California Current is unknown. Placing giant turbines and anchors in a current system that is largely free-flowing and structure-free could cause irreparable harm to seabirds, marine mammals, fisheries management regimes and more,” Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition Chair Susan Chambers said in the release. “Robust environmental analyses need to be completed before areas are identified and leased, not after. Our productive California Current must be protected.”
The release notes the groups are not necessarily against the idea of ocean-generated energy, but would be if it came at the expense of local industries that bring in millions to the Oregon economy annually, or the endangered species in the environment.
The Newport-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, which represents 30 vessels on the Oregon coast and beyond, issued its own statement, claiming the establishment of offshore wind farms would be a “catastrophic loss” for Oregon fisheries. Executive Director Heather Mann said that while members of the fishing industry were invited to make comments, she doesn’t believe BOEM has taken it into consideration in any meaningful way.
“The fishing industry isn’t anti-wind energy, but it’s more about how this is a flawed process,” Mann said. “We’ve been included in dozens of meetings on this, only for BOEM to turn around and put the call areas in an area that is very important for our livelihood.”
According to Mann, the Oregon whiting industry brought in over 400 million pounds of fish valued at more than $32 million from the outlined areas over the last two seasons. Among the cooperative’s members are several multi-generational fishing families who worry they could lose access to vital fishing areas.
And it’s not just commercial use that has some members of the industry concerned. According to BOEM’s presentation, the area overlaps with a variety of endangered species, including several types of whale, seabirds and sea turtles. Mann argued that since Oregon fishers and everyone else has to face restrictions to ensure those species safety, so should the BOEM.
Romero said he understands many of the concerns the fisheries brought to BOEM and stressed that the federal agency intends to keep industry representatives involved in every aspect of the project and is openly soliciting formal comment to help identify what portions of its call areas are most suitable for everyone.
“We’re hoping we can work with people throughout the process to identify the best wind energy areas by this fall,” Romero said, while encouraging anyone interested or concerned about the project to visit BOEM’s website and inspect the data BOEM has already gathered for themselves.