Updated: Oct 20, 2022
When the Inflation Reduction Act became law, renewable energy projects were set to gain funding to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Some of this funding was earmarked for offshore wind farms along the coast of Oregon.
Presently, the proposed area for a centralized offshore wind farm in Oregon is off the coast near Coos Bay and Brookings. Developers would like to install at least 1000 MW and up to 3000 MW of wind turbine generators in this area. However, there are many issues associated with a centralized wind farm, including the high cost of building additional transmission lines not only monetarily but also in terms of environmental degradation.
Instead, offshore wind farm developers, regulators, and governmental agencies should consider building multiple, distributed offshore wind farms along the Oregon coast. Distributed offshore wind farms require a lower upfront cost because they will use existing transmission infrastructure. They will also provide economic benefits to more coastal communities.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues related to centralized wind farms, and the advantages offered by distributed wind farms.
High Cost of Transmission from Centralized Wind Farms
A centralized wind farm would produce 1000 to 3000 MW of electric energy in one location, and would require enough transmission capacity to move this energy inland from the coast. Unfortunately, existing transmission lines in the Coos Bay and Brookings areas are low capacity lines that can only transfer about 500 MW to interconnection points.
To ensure enough transmission capacity is available, local electric utilities will need to develop an additional 500 to 2500 MW of transfer capability to interconnection points. Because only limited capacity lines exist in the proposed area, at least three extra high voltage transmission lines will need to be built to connect offshore wind farms to eastern interconnection points. Eventually, energy will be transferred to Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, and other locations from the interconnection points.
Building just three new 500 KV transmission lines from Coos Bay to an interconnection point will be at least a $1 billion effort. If more than 1500 MW of transfer capacity is needed, more transmission lines will need to be built, and the cost will be even higher.
Environmental Impacts of Centralized Wind Farms
Each line will require about a 100 mile right of way (ROW) that is 150 feet wide, with the entire ROW cleared of vegetation. This would create a huge scar through the coastal range, damaging natural ecosystems and populations of native species. This could also impact the timber industry, who rely on consistent harvests from forests in the coastal range.
Plus, each line will require design features that minimize the possibility of wildfire ignition as well as the ability to withstand wildfires near the right of way. Oregon has experienced devastating wildfires in recent years; these special design features will be especially important for extra high voltage lines. Needless to say, this will be very expensive.
A Better Alternative: Distributed Offshore Wind Farms
Instead of building one or two wind farms with high generation capacity, wind farm developers should build several smaller wind farms along the Oregon coast. Locating offshore wind farms near Coos Bay (750 MW), Florence (500 MW), Newport (350 MW), Lincoln City (350 MW), Tillamook (350 MW), and Astoria (350 MW) is a technically superior, cost effective alternative. Transmission infrastructure is already available to transfer most or all of the energy produced from these coastal locations to inland areas.
There are many advantages to distributed offshore wind farms, including:
Inflation Reduction Act funds will be better utilized when used to build distributed wind farms and energy storage facilities along the Oregon coast in Coos Bay, Florence, Newport, Lincoln City, Tillamook, and Astoria.
The expense of logging new right of ways and constructing additional transmission lines will be minimized, as several hundred miles of transmission lines already exist in the area. Furthermore, natural areas and scenic vistas will be undisturbed.
Energy produced in Coos Bay, Florence, Newport, Lincoln City, Tillamook, and Astoria will be used locally with excess energy being transferred over existing transmission lines to inland consumers.
Many coastal communities will receive an economic boost, benefitting from the sale of clean energy, as well as increased jobs both during the initial installation of offshore wind farms, and for their continued maintenance.
The Coos Bay area could utilize Inflation Reduction Act funding to build an offshore wind farm support facility. Towers, blades, nacelles, etc. could be shipped to Coos Bay, offloaded to ocean going barges and transported to other coastal locations for installation.
Prescient has the facts to prove that distributed offshore wind farms are the most cost effective alternative. Distributed offshore wind will lead to enhanced power grid performance with less market concentration, and will have significantly fewer environmental impacts.
Contact us to learn more about the benefits of distributed offshore wind farms and other solutions to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. You can also check out our climate change blog collection to learn more about our ideas and insights.
This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.