Interior begins NEPA review of Ore. floating turbine farm

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Interior Department today announced it has kicked off its review of a Seattle company’s plans to build what would be the nation’s first offshore floating wind farm.

The agency’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it will accept public comments on Principle Power Inc.’s plans to install five 6-megawatt floating wind turbines in deep waters about 18 miles off the coast of Coos Bay, Ore.The environmental assessment will review impacts associated with both the issuance of a commercial lease, and construction and operation of the 30 MW project. Potentially affected resources include invertebrates, fish, birds, bats and marine mammals, as well as commercial and sport fishing and vessel traffic, BOEM said.

While BOEM has completed reviews of offshore wind leases and site characterizations on the East Coast, today’s announcement kicks off BOEM’s only current National Environmental Policy Act review of an offshore wind construction and operations plan (COP). If approved — Principle is yet to submit the actual plan — the project would join Massachusetts’ Cape Wind project as the only offshore wind farms to gain Interior Department approval.

BOEM announced in February it would consider issuing Principle a non-competitive lease, since no other firms are interested in the area (Greenwire, Feb. 5). The agency will also hold two public meetings in Coos Bay on June 17.

The WindFloat Pacific project earlier this month was among three selected by the Energy Department to each receive up to $47 million in federal grants to connect to the electric grid by 2017 (E&ENews PM, May 7). Principle has $6.7 million and about a year to finish the front-end engineering design, an “off-take” agreement that identifies a buyer for the power and the necessary environmental reviews before it can access the rest of the $40 million, DOE Assistant Secretary David Danielson said then.

BOEM said Principle will submit a plan to site its project within a 15-square-mile proposed lease in about 1,400 feet of water. If approved and eventually built, it would be the first wind project in federal waters off the West Coast and the nation’s first floating offshore wind farm.

While wind is plentiful along the West Coast, waters are generally too deep to moor wind turbines to the seabed, which is being pursued along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Principle Power said its WindFloat turbines can be built on land and towed offshore, saving on the cost of assembling and mooring the turbines at sea.

Earlier this month, Principle announced an agreement with Deepwater Wind, developer of the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, to help develop the Oregon project.