Despite Pushback, Feds Finalize Plan for Off-Shore Wind Farms

By Stefanie Settle

On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a Notice of Intent to assess potential impact from offshore wind leasing off the coast of Oregon. This follows the federal agency’s announcement of the designation of two final Wind Energy Areas for potential floating offshore wind farms near Coos Bay and Brookings.

According to the Notice filed with the Federal Register, BOEM intends to prepare an assessment to consider the potential environmental impact of offshore wind leasing in the designated Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) announced Feb. 12. As part of the assessment, BOEM has opened a 30-day period of public comment and seeks public input on potential issues of offshore wind leasing – including its impact on environmental, historical and cultural resources.

The two WEAs are approximately 195,012 acres in total size. The Coos Bay wind energy area is 61,204 acres and about 32 miles from shore. The Brookings WEA is approximately 133,808 acres and about 18 miles from shore. The finalized WEA size is approximately 12% smaller in size from the draft WEAs initially proposed in August of last year.

On Aug. 15, 2023, the BOEM announced a public comment period of 60 days (later extended to 75 days) on two draft WEAs that covered approximately 219,568 acres and between 18 to 32 miles offshore. During this public comment period, the BOEM received approximately 1,150 comments on the draft WEAs.

The final WEAs were developed following recommendations and feedback from the state, tribes, ocean users, federal government partners, as well as local residents and other members of the public. In their statement, BOEM says the final WEAs avoid 98% of the areas recommended for exclusion due to their importance as commercial fishing grounds.

“The WEAs were developed following extensive engagement and feedback from the state, tribes, local residents, ocean users, federal government partners, and other members of the public,” said the BOEM in a statement. “The final WEAs are based on reducing potential conflicts of ocean users, particularly on commercial fishing.”

“BOEM values its close coordination with the State of Oregon as we continue to work together to maintain a robust and transparent offshore wind planning process,” said BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein. “We will continue to work closely with tribal governments, federal and state government agencies, ocean users, coastal communities, and all interested stakeholders as we move forward with our environmental review.”

In a letter to Klein last June, Gov. Tina Kotek requested BOEM pause the offshore wind leasing project due to local economic and cultural concerns. “Many valid questions and concerns remain about floating offshore wind,” the letter stated. “These must be addressed transparently before we can support proceeding further toward any substantial development decisions on the Oregon coast.” The letter was signed by Kotek as well as other Oregon legislators, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Val Hoyle and Suzane Bonamici. In a further letter dated Aug. 8, Wyden, Merkley, Hoyle and Bonamici stated they “remain concerned the process is not adequately engaging all voices in the planning process” and encouraged that BOEM “fully studies every opportunity to reduce conflict with all ocean users before making substantial development decisions.”

In a motion passed unanimously during a March 2023 meeting, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted 10-0 to recommend that BEOM rescind the then-draft offshore WEAs over concerns that the massive floating wind farms would burden commercial and tribal fishermen. The Council further requested that “BOEM restart the process to identify call areas and consider all water off Oregon” for more appropriate areas with less economic and commercial impact “to minimize siting impacts to fisheries and ecosystem resources.” Council tribal representative Joe Oatman further stated, “Tribal concerns are not given the due consideration that they deserve. Many potential impacts on the California current ecosystem and the aquatic resources on which they depend have not been adequately identified or addressed by BOEM.”

Curry, Coos and Douglas County Commissioners have all passed unanimous resolutions opposing BOEM’s project, citing concerns for its potential impact on the marine ecosystems and its biodiversity.

The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umqua and Siuslaw Indians passed a resolution in October of last year, voicing opposing the proposals during the first public comment period. Their resolution states, “BOEM has not demonstrated that the leasing and subsequent construction, operation, and decommissioning of wind energy facilities will avoid adverse impacts to Tribal uses and reliance on the Ocean.” The resolution further states “BOEM’s failure to assure the Tribe that its concerns will be addressed and resources protected leaves the Tribal Council no choice other than to oppose the project.”

The BOEM’s plan supports the Biden-Harris administration’s goals for deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030 and 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy capacity of 2035. BOEM has held four offshore wind lease auctions thus far, which have brought in $5.5 billion in high bids, including a record-breaking sale offshore New York and New Jersey. 

Once built, the Oregon Coast Wind Energy Areas could support 2.4 gigawatts of energy production.

To submit public comments online, go to https://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket No. BOEM–2023–0065 to submit and view supporting and related materials available for this notice. To submit by mail, send to: “OREGON Environmental Assessment” addressed to Chief, Environmental Assessment Section, Office of Environment, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 760 Paseo Camarillo, Suite 102, Camarillo, California 93010.

Stefanie Settle is a resident of Gold Beach and co-owner of Berserker Mail, an email broadcasting & automation platform that can help local businesses get all the new customers they can stand. To get your free test drive, go to berserkermail.com.