Offshore wind energy project gets OK from feds

The federal government has given a green light for the West Coast’s first offshore wind energy project to move to the next step, off the coast of Coos Bay.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Tommy Beaudreau, director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, announced Feb. 5 that Principle Power Inc. has received the go-ahead to craft plans for a 30-gigawatt pilot project that uses floating wind turbine technology.

The Seattle-based company is proposing to site five floating “WindFloat” units within a 15-square-mile area some 20 miles offshore in about 1,400 feet of water. Each unit will carry a 6-megawatt offshore wind turbine. Electrical cables connect the units, and a single cable would bring the power onshore.

The next step for the company is to submit a full plan for the area to Bureau of Energy Management. The bureau then completes a National Environmental Policy Act analysis, which includes opportunities for public comment, before granting final approval.

If final approval is granted, it would be the first offshore wind project proposed in federal waters off the West Coast and the first in the nation to use floating structures to support wind generation in the Outer Continental Shelf.

“This determination represents another milestone and more progress for WindFloat Pacific,” said Kevin Banister, vice president of business development and government affairs for Principle Power and the WindFloat Pacific project manager, in an email Wednesday afternoon. “We look forward to continuing to work with BOEM, agencies and community stakeholders as we prepare our plans for the project.

“We’re particularly grateful to Secretary Jewell for her interest in the project.”

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the West Coast carries offshore wind energy potential of more than 800 gigawatts, more than three-quarters of the nation’s entire power generation capacity.

Principle Power had already been awarded $4 million by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2012 to develop such a demonstration project. Press reports at the time said the wind units would be assembled in the area.

Officials couldn’t say Wednesday, though, about a timetable for the project going forward or estimate what number of jobs it might produce.