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Ocean wind project making waves to get guaranteed funding


A committee appointed by Gov. Kate Brown has begun work to figure out how to pay for what would be the first offshore wind project on the West Coast.

The Seattle-based company Principle Power needs a guaranteed stream of money from Oregon ratepayers to move forward with the pilot project known as WindFloat, which could have up to five wind turbines as tall as the Seattle Space Needle and cover as much as 15 square miles in the deep ocean off Coos Bay.

A bill in the Oregon Legislature this year would have required investor-owned utilities to purchase power from the WindFloat project, but the legislation died amid opposition by utilities, a consumer group and industrial businesses. They argued that electricity from offshore wind costs much more than from onshore wind. The commercial fishing and processing industries also opposed the bill and continue to raise concerns about the project.

Susan Chambers, a board member of the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition in Coos Bay and deputy director of the Portland-based West Coast Seafood Processors Association, said that during the committee’s first meeting on Sept. 29, it sounded as though state officials were determined to find a way to fund the project.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s room for discussion at this point,” Chambers said. “That may change. But at this point, it sounds like we have to find a way to pay for this.”

In written testimony on the bill to fund WindFloat earlier this year, the Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition said Principle Power initially worked with the fishing industry to identify a location for the wind project. After the company received federal preliminary approval for a larger footprint, Principle Power moved the project site north within that area.

“The project is now located directly in prime shrimp and rockfish fishing areas utilized by several small businesses in Charleston,” the coalition wrote. “This action displaces traditional fishermen.” The project could also take over some of the area used by a fishing fleet whose members are based in Newport, Astoria and Seattle.

State Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, attended part of the committee meeting at the Oregon Department of Transportation building in Salem.

“As we explore these new opportunities, we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to explore existing industries and minimizing potential conflicts there,” Gomberg said. “I’m thinking of the fishing fleets.”

Gomberg said the committee did not discuss the impact to fishermen while he was at the meeting.

The chairwoman of the governor’s committee, Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, did not respond to a request for comment. Kevin Banister, an executive at Principle Power and member of the committee, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is a member of the committee and said basic questions remained unanswered at the first meeting.

“If there’s a power purchase agreement, the question still remains: at what cost, to whom?”

Chambers said when House Bill 2216, sponsored by Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, was in the Legislature earlier this year, Chambers heard the tariff to subsidize the WindFloat project might have added as little as 35 cents a month to a residential ratepayer’s monthly bill. The cost would be more of an issue for businesses that use large amounts of power.

One way Principle Power could try to sweeten the deal in Johnson’s district would be to handle part of the assembly for the project in her district, at the Port of Astoria.

Mike Weston, director of business development at the Port of Astoria, said Principle Power approached the port four or five months ago to discuss possibly completing final assembly of the wind turbine structures in Astoria. The structures would be too tall to assemble in Coos Bay, because of the bridge that crosses the bay.

“There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen,” Weston said. “For us, it’s kind of hypothetical at this point. It seems like a great concept, though.”

It is unclear when the committee will hold its next meeting. Although the Governor’s Office initially planned to keep the committee meetings private, the first meeting was packed, with some people even sitting on the floor. Spokesman Chris Pair said Thursday that future meetings will be open to the public.

The governor’s WindFloat advisory committee has the following members:

• Kevin Banister, an executive at Principle Power

• State Rep. Sen. Betsy Johnson

•State Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay

• Scott Bolton, a vice president and lobbyist for PacifiCorp

• Varner Seaman, a lobbyist for Portland General Electric

• Dan James, a vice president at Portland-based power cooperative PNGC Power

• Jeff Bissonette, policy director for the Citizens’ Utility Board

• Hillary Barbour, policy director for the advocacy group Renewable Northwest Project

• Debra Smith, general manager of the Central Lincoln People’s Utility District

• Scott McMullen, chairman of the Oregon Fisherman’s Cable Committee

• John Carr, executive director of the industrial business group Industrial Customers of the Northwest Utilities

• Nick Edwards of Coos Bay, who was appointed to represent the fishing community. Edwards is also a member of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and a board member of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, according to his LinkedIn profile.