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WindFloat Pacific: What’s This About ‘Secret’ Meetings?

The Portland Tribune is kicking up a little dust regarding the WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that Gov. Kate Brown is putting together. This is the body that the Oregon governor hopes will find a way to keep the offshore wind project on course to receive crucial federal funding and ultimately be built off Coos Bay.

As a demonstration project, WindFloat Pacific power is likely to be pricey – the idea is that the cost would drop on subsequent, scaled-up projects – and the state is looking to help the developer find a buyer. 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 purchase WindFloat’s output.

So now the Trib reports that the WindFloat committee won’t meet publicly, and suggests this goes against the new governor’s pledge to be ultra-transparent in the Post-Kitz Era. It’s a reasonable point, but I will note that there was a public hearing on the WindFloat bill last April, and as far as I can tell, the Trib didn’t think that was important enough to write a story about it. Also, the governor’s committee won’t have any real power – it’s just going to try to come up with a plan. That plan would then likely need to be acted on by the legislature and/or the Public Utilities Commission, in which case all kinds of vetting could unfold.

Still, public discussion of public policy, that sort of makes sense, right? The only issue I can see is WindFloat is already behind schedule – the developers are asking the feds for a one-year extension on the project timetable – and a new layer of public meetings runs the risk of dragging out the search for a solution. But that’s where leadership comes in. Brown was AWOL on this issue this past spring. Maybe with some focused action now, she can shepherd a process that is open and speedy and delivers this project to Oregon.


Proposed Oregon Offshore Wind Farm Downsizing

No surprise here: The proposed U.S.-backed Oregon floating offshore wind project is downsizing in a bid to get built.

WindFloat Pacific is in line for nearly $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to help build a project about 20 miles off the coast at Coos Bay. The plan was for a five-turbine, 30-megawatt project.

But as I reported exclusively in June, WindFloat Pacific backers 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 above-market-price output. That put the project at risk of losing its crucial DOE funding.

Principle Power’s Kevin Banister, the point man for the project in Oregon, had suggested that downsizing might be the best way to make the project more palatable to the Oregon Legislature and/or Oregon utilities – and now Banister is making that official.

“We’re saying now it’s an up to a 24MW project,” Banister told Recharge News. “It became clear to us that for a demonstration-scale project 30MW was a little bigger than the appetite in the state.” The developer is also asking the DOE for an extra year to move the project along. It had hoped to be in operation in 2017.

Late last month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced formation of a WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee that will try to come up with a power purchase arrangement for the project.


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.