People voice concerns on 2 Oregon sites eyed for offshore wind farms

Kale Williams (KGW)

PORTLAND, Oregon — As Oregon attempts to wean itself off fossil fuels, the state is looking anywhere it can for renewable energy sources.

Even out in the ocean.

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced two draft Wind Energy Areas off the southern Oregon coast. One of them is offshore of Brookings, near the California border, the other off the coast of Coos Bay.

The areas represent a prime spot for development, with strong, consistent winds that could produce up to 2.6 gigawatts of power when fully operational.

The areas also represent prime fishing grounds and important cultural areas to local Indigenous tribes. Heather Mann, executive director of the Newport-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, said it feels like a lot of stakeholders’ concerns are being left unheard.

“They’re not listening to coastal communities. They’re not listening to the fishing industry. They’re not listening to congressional representatives,” said Mann, whose organization represents 32 vessels that fish in the area. “Fishermen are not just concerned about being displaced from fishing grounds, though that is a critical piece. We’re also really concerned about any unintended environmental impacts that could come.”

In announcing the two draft wind areas, BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein said they would be taking local concerns into account.

“As BOEM works to identify potential areas for offshore wind development, we continue to prioritize a robust and transparent process, including ongoing engagement with Tribal governments, agency partners, the fishing community, and other ocean users,” she said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the state to help us finalize offshore areas that have strong resource potential and the fewest environmental and user conflicts.”

Looming environmental goals

Last year, the Biden administration set lofty goals for offshore wind energy in the U.S., calling for 30 gigawatts of production by 2030. In 2021, Oregon passed its own ambitious clean energy goals, mandating 100% clean energy by 2040.

And those goals are approaching as demand for energy increases. Many households are adopting electric appliances and home heating systems as more and more people opt for electric vehicles to stem the effects of climate change, which is caused by burning fossil fuels.

Diane Brandt, Oregon state director for Renewable Northwest — a nonprofit that advocates for transitioning away from fossil fuels — said the electric utilities in the region are all forecasting increased demand well into the future.

“The demand just keeps going up, even in last six month, we’ve seen considerable increases in the utility projections of their demand forecast,” she said.

Brandt said the state has a good idea of how it will meet its early targets, but many questions remain in the long term.

“I think we have a good idea of how to get to 2030, but beyond 2030 — there are a lot of questions about the new resources that can come online because we’re going to have less and less gas on the system at that point,” she said. “And so how are we replacing it?”

Much of that energy will come from existing resources like land-based wind, solar and hydroelectric power, but each of those alone aren’t consistent enough to meet the demand that is forecast. Brandt said the wind off Oregon’s coast can help fill in some of those gaps.

“It is blowing at times opposite or complementary to onshore wind,” she said. “It just is another resource to give us a variety of attributes and resources on our grid to make sure that we’re getting the electricity when we need it and where we need it.”

Still, offshore wind energy comes has its own unique set of drawbacks that must be addressed, Brandt said.

“There are a lot of concerns and questions like, ‘are our voices being heard?” Brandt said. “Especially from the coastal communities. The fisheries have concerns. The tribes have concerns.”

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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