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Oregon Struggles to Hang on to WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Project

WindFloat demonstration off Portugal

It’ll be interesting to see what Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s newly announced “WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee” comes up with as the planned project struggles to find a buyer for the pricey energy it would produce.

Locking in a power purchase agreement is key to securing the additional $47 million the U.S. Department of Energy is ready to spend on the project, expected to cost well over $200 million at its planned five-turbine, 30-megawatt configuration. The project received $4 million in an earlier round of DOE funding.

As I reported in June, backers of the project failed to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would have required the state’s two big investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, to buy WindFloat’s output. The utilities argued that the power would cost “3-4 times” what they pay for onshore wind and be a burden on ratepayers (this despite the fact that the utilities participate in solar programs that are even more expensive).

There really wasn’t much of a fight over the bill, not after Brown, new to office after the John Kitzhaber resignation, and Democratic legislators pushed through a contentious bill extending a low-carbon fuels program.

For now, the governor’s committee is at the very least a signal to the DOE not to be too quick to pull the plug on WindFloat Pacific, which would use floating turbines about 20 miles off the coast at Coos Bay. Principle Power, the company behind WindFloat’s semi-submersible technology, has suggested one option could be to downsize the project to make it less costly.

The DOE had wanted WindFloat Pacific and two other innovative offshore wind projects it was backing to get their power off-take agreements in place by the end of July. With all three failing to do so, the Oregon project most likely isn’t at immediate risk of DOE abandonment. Still, the DOE did partially fund another floating-turbine project, Maine Aqua Ventus, allowing for continued technology refinements. So if the Oregon project doesn’t find a way to sell its power, the DOE does have another option, although the Maine project, too, would have to show it can market its power.

Photo: WindFloat demonstration project off Portugal, courtesy Principle Power.