Interior to evaluate Ore. floating-turbine project

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Interior Department is evaluating a Seattle company’s proposal to install what could be the nation’s first commercial-scale floating wind turbines off the coast of Oregon

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Friday said it is determining whether there is any competitive interest in the 15-square-mile area off Coos Bay, where Principle Power Inc. has proposed building a 30-megawatt wind farm.

If no other companies express interest, the agency could consider issuing a noncompetitive lease. Comments are being accepted for 30 days.

“We will work closely with the state of Oregon and stakeholders to share information and resolve issues in order to make responsible wind energy development in federal waters a reality,” BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau said.

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

Principle wants to tow five 6-megawatt floating turbines roughly 15 miles from the Oregon shore, where the water is about 1,200 feet deep.

BOEM said it is also seeking comment from the public on the project’s effect on the environment, such as commercial and recreational fishing, wildlife viewing, aviation, scientific research and protected species, marine mammals, and their habitat.

If approved, the Oregon project could become the agency’s fifth offshore wind lease and the first for a floating wind farm.

BOEM this year has raised $5.4 million by selling a pair of competitive wind leases off the coasts of New England and Virginia and previously issued two noncompetitive wind leases off Delaware and Massachusetts

Principle last December was one of seven companies to be awarded $4 million each in Energy Department grants to support the engineering, design and permitting of commercial-scale offshore wind projects.

Up to three of those projects will be selected to receive up to an additional $47 million each, pending congressional appropriations, to support project siting, construction and installation.

“The future of the offshore wind industry lies in deeper waters, and we are now taking the critical next steps,” said Alla Weinstein, Principle’s CEO, upon receiving the award

While no offshore projects have been built in the United States, offshore wind is considered steadier than onshore wind and is located closer to major population centers, increasing its appeal.

However, offshore wind energy is expected to cost about 24 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2016, far higher than energy from onshore wind farms or conventional fossil fuels, according to federal economists. The higher costs stem from the lack of an established supply chain in the United States for offshore wind and from the fact that some equipment and ships must be imported from Europe. Installing turbines in the ocean is also costlier, and there is currently no transmission to carry the power to market.

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

The company since October 2011 has operated a prototype 2-megawatt WindFloat turbine off the coast of Portugal. It was the first multimegawatt offshore wind turbine to be installed without the use of any heavy lift vessels, Principle said.

BOEM’s announcement comes months after DOE and the University of Maine announced the launch of the nation’s first grid-connected offshore floating wind turbine prototype off the shore of Castine, Maine (Greenwire, May 31).

The 65-foot-high prototype is the world’s first concrete-composite floating wind turbine to be deployed, though it is only one-eighth the size of a planned 6-megawatt, 423-foot-rotor-diameter design that will anchor a larger wind farm planned by the University of Maine-led DeepCwind Consortium

BOEM said it will hold additional competitive auctions for wind energy leases offshore Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts over the next year.