Oregon State University (OSU) will receive a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the impact of offshore winds on the environment.

Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have announced the wind study grant.

Coast Wind Energy

Floating wind turbines, like these at a Hywind wind farm off the coast of Scotland, could be a potential huge industry for the Oregon Coast.

“Moving rapidly to a clean energy future requires having the best and brightest minds provide robust research on ways to make that vision a reality,” Merkley said. “I am pleased OSU will use this grant to lead efforts on offshore wind development research and find ways for offshore wind to safely coexist with our wildlife and fisheries. I will continue fighting for critical resources that will help us combat the climate crisis and move Oregon closer to a clean energy future.”

Wyden,  author of the Clean Energy for America Act, said offshore wind presents a key piece of a greener future.

“I’m thrilled that OSU has earned this federal investment to apply its top-notch research in Newport to this clean energy source,” Wyden said. “I’m glad the Energy Department has recognized Oregon State can provide the research and data to ensure the development of this clean and sustainable energy source doesn’t hurt our state’s world-renowned coastal fisheries and wildlife.”

According to Wyden and Merkley, offshore wind can play a significant role in the nation’s push towards net-zero emissions and clean energy in the coming years. The Biden administration has announced a goal of having the U.S. reach 100% clean energy by 2035 and have net-zero emissions by 2050.

The grant is administered by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program under the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, along with other energy and ocean wildlife organizations.

In a published article July, The News Guard reported that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had outlined a presentation to the Curry County Board of Commissioners, the agency’s process in identifying locations for some truly massive wind turbines — the largest of which are taller than the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument at more than 850 feet — not to mention the span of the whirling blades — which can be longer than a football field.

Although they are typically much larger, offshore turbines essentially work the same as onshore turbines. As wind causes the blades to spin, they produce kinetic energy, which is converted to electrical energy by a generator inside the turbine. The electricity is shuttled to an offshore substation through underwater cables, and then transported to an onshore substation, where it is finally distributed to homes and businesses.

Whitney Hauer, renewable energy specialist, said offshore wind turbines can produce more energy than landlocked turbines because the wind is stronger and more consistent.

In shallow water, turbines are secured directly to the ocean floor, but floating foundations are used in deeper waters. Hauer said floating offshore wind technology will most likely be used on the West Coast due to steep drop-offs along the continental shelf. Offshore turbines could be built anywhere from three to 300 nautical miles offshore.

In June of 2020, the state of Oregon and the BOEM committed to offshore wind energy planning.

Since then, the BOEM initiated a multi-year planning process, beginning with a mass data collection phase. They are looking at a wide variety of information, including potential human and environmental impacts, natural disaster risk — such as a tsunami — and wind speeds in particular locations, among many other data points.

BOEM even tracks the unexploded weapons lingering in ocean waters along the West Coast; remnants of past wars, which either missed their target or were dumped.

If you are wondering, there are two relatively small “explosive dumping areas” about 100 miles west of Astoria, according to the West Coast Ocean Data Portal.

Hauer said BOEM is scouting the entire Oregon Coast for potential wind farm locations. On average, offshore wind speeds in Oregon are 15 miles per hour, according to the presentation. Although she said offshore wind in Southern Oregon is considered “world class,” at 22-23 mph, on average.

America’s first offshore wind farm is the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. There, five turbines create enough energy to power 17,000 homes in New England. Block Island finished construction in 2016 and came online shortly thereafter. There are more than 30 offshore wind projects across the U.S. in various stages of development, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

After data collection is finished, specific locations will be identified for wind farms, which is an array of turbines. Then, a plethora of environmental surveys will be conducted in those locations, and BOEM will purchase a lease from the state. After it assumes control, BOEM will issue more environmental surveys, including geological and biological surveys, and after extensive surveying, construction on a wind farm can finally begin.

State Rep. David Brock-Smith submitted a bill to the state legislature, which aims to establish three Gigawatts of commercial scale floating offshore wind energy projects within federal waters off the Oregon Coast by 2030.

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