Offshore Wind Update: Developments in Oregon, Washington

An offshore wind farm. File photo via U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Two years ago, the Biden administration announced that the West Coast would be open to offshore wind (OSW) development for the first time, starting with areas along the northern and central coasts of California, as part of the administration’s larger efforts to create 30 gigawatts of domestic offshore wind by 2030.

Now the government’s offshore wind efforts are moving farther up the West Coast.

Last spring, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the lead agency handling the offshore wind development process, announced possible leasing off the Oregon coast, in the proposed Coos Bay Call Area (872,854 acres) and the Brookings Call Area (about 286,444 acres).

Washington state isn’t far behind. While BOEM hasn’t announced any call areas in the Evergreen State, there’s been at least two unsolicited lease requests for offshore wind off the state’s coast, according to Mike Conroy, West Coast director for the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a national coalition of fishing industry stakeholders involved in wind issues. 

“It’s coming quickly, and the snowball is rolling down the hill, gathering momentum with every passing week or month,” Conroy said.

As efforts to bring offshore wind projects to the West Coast ramp up, area fishermen continue to sound the alarm on the potential impacts these projects could have on the coast’s seafood-rich stocks. For many in the fishing community, questions remain.

“They’re raising all the same concerns, and lots of concerns that are not being addressed,” said Glen H. Spain, acting executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

Not long after the Oregon announcement, more than 100 people, including commercial fishermen, participated in a Protect Us Fishermen rally in Coos Bay. Many of them wore bright red T-shirts that read S.O.S. for “Save Oregon Seafood.”

Merrick Burden, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, also raised fishermen’s concerns in an April 6 letter to Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and Douglas Boren, BOEM’s Pacific regional director.

In the letter, the PFMC asked that BOEM rescind the Call Areas in Oregon and restart the process of identifying such areas. The council recommended looking into areas more than 12 miles offshore, including locations deeper than 1,300 meters.

It also requested that the BOEM employ a spatial mapping tool that lowers siting effects to fisheries and ecosystem resources, excludes offshore banks and seamounts and “require(s) an adequate buffer zone surrounding them as determined by collaborative work by partners including (the) council, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.”

Burden wrote that the management council is not opposed to the general development of offshore wind energy.

“What we seek is a development process that adequately considers multiple ocean uses, and sites OSW energy facilities in ways that are compatible with these multiple uses,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, and despite the engagement of the council and multiple fishery stakeholders, the areas being considered for OSW energy development off the coast of Oregon may not be compatible with fisheries.”

BOEM did not respond to Fishermen’s News’ request for comment.

“It’s a giant mandate to do something big, but as usual, without any consideration of the unintended consequences, and the unintended consequences could be, among other things, the complete loss of a number of our fishery areas,” Spain said.

The groundfish fisheries, especially the trough fishery that operates off Northern California, Oregon and Washington, are especially vulnerable, as well as the highly migratory species fisheries, whether it be albacore, bluefin tuna, swordfish and the like, Conroy said. Crab and salmon could also be severely impacted depending upon how the species react to the electromagnetic fields generated by the power cables, he added.

“Those are very valuable fisheries, both from an economic standpoint, but also from a cultural and tribal standpoint, and that’s one of the things that we have repeatedly kind of tried to hammer home,” Conroy said. “We just don’t know what the impacts of this industrialization of the ocean is going to be, if it’s going to destroy the ecosystem function by eliminating upwelling or impacting upwelling. The whole ecosystem could collapse.”

Spain also expressed concerns about cables that could entangle whales, potential navigational hazards and how upwelling could be impacted. He also questioned whether floating offshore wind platforms are the most cost-effective way to generate alternative energy.

“It’s going to cost between four and six times the amount of money that (it) would cost to generate this power on land,” he said. “It’s one of the most expensive ways to generate power when you calculate all the subsidies and all the infrastructure development that has to take place before you get your first gigawatt.”

Offshore wind development on the West Coast could not only lead to the loss of fishing grounds, but also cause potential impacts downstream, Conroy said.

“The buyers and processors that purchase the products that we harvest base their business models on X amount of pounds coming across their docks, and if we start to see a reduction in the ability of our domestic suppliers to supply those markets … those processors go away,” he said.

That’s a problem, Conroy said, not only from the lack of a buyer, but also because many of those processors house the infrastructure that the fishing industry relies on, from the cranes to pumps.

“Those are serious concerns,” he added.

Meanwhile, offshore wind development continues to advance in other areas. In December, the Department of the Interior announced the auction of offshore wind leases in California’s Morro Bay Wind Energy Area and the Humboldt Wind Energy Area. Bids total $757.1 million from five companies.

Development in these two areas alone could generate over 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy to power over 1.5 million homes, according to the agency.

A new federal survey mitigation strategy by NOAA Fisheries and BOEM was announced in December to look at the possible effects of offshore wind energy development on NOAA Fisheries’ scientific surveys. The strategy would “serve as a model to address the impacts of offshore wind on NOAA Fisheries surveys in other regions,” according to BOEM.

On April 20, Crowley Maritime Corp. announced that it has opened a wind-services office in Eureka, Calif. The company is in talks with the Port of Humboldt Bay to build and operate a terminal that supports tenants involved in offshore wind activities in the region.

In January, at his annual State of the Port address, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero announced plans to create a Zero Emissions, Energy Resilient Operations Program, or ZEERO. One of its goals is to support renewable energy projects, including “Pier Wind,” the port’s proposal for a floating offshore wind staging and integration facility to support offshore wind turbine production.

Turbines would be assembled in Long Beach before heading to wind farms off the Central and Northern California coast. The project would call for creating up to 400 acres of new land for a terminal that could handle heavy-lift crane operations to “stage, store and construct the world’s largest floating offshore wind turbines,” according to the port, which expects to finish a detailed concept report on the “Pier Wind” proposal before the summer.

Meanwhile, on April 12, SB 286 was passed 9-0 by the California Senate’s Natural Resources Committee and is expected to be heard by the Senate Energy Committee.

The bill seeks to streamline the process of offshore wind permitting through the state’s Coastal and State Land commissions by three years and to form a stakeholder group tasked with establishing a statewide standard for faster offshore wind development. It also would create “data-driven strategies to avoid and minimize impacts to ocean fisheries” and offer resources to communities.

Spain said his association is working with lawmakers to require mitigation measures and compensation for the potential loss of fisheries.

Conroy and Spain stressed to the fishing community the importance of staying involved in the issue. 

“I think that the fishing industry understands the need to develop further alternative energy sources, but this rush to throw turbines and substations and offshore converters into the ocean is going to come at a cost,” Conroy said. 

“For offshore wind, we seem to be taking it at face value that these things are going to work or what those costs are, whether it be economic, environmental, social or whatnot. We need to understand what those trade-offs are going to be so that we can make informed decisions. And we’re just not there yet.”   

KAREN ROBES MEEKS, a Southern California native, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ writing experience. Her articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register and Long Beach Press-Telegram, where she worked as a reporter for nearly 14 years. Her work has been recognized by the California News Publishers Association, the Associated Press News Executives Council and the Los Angeles Press Club. You can reach Karen at