Oregon seafood industry calls on Gov. Tina Kotek to halt offshore wind energy development

A coalition of independent fishing boat operators, seafood companies and industry groups is calling on Gov. Tina Kotek to ask the federal government to stop a planned auction for floating wind energy projects off the Oregon Coast.

In a letter to Kotek on Tuesday, the more than 100 signatories said she should stop the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from moving forward with its plan to auction offshore wind site leases until the state has finalized its own roadmap for offshore wind development.

That roadmap is part of House Bill 4080, which was signed by Kotek last week. It will create state policies on offshore wind energy development that include community input and labor standards.

“We’re saying no auction until the roadmap is complete,” said Heather Mann, executive director of the Newport-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, which signed the letter. 

The roadmap must be completed by Sept. 1, 2025, according to the legislation.

The letter noted that developing wind power off Oregon’s coast is an untested idea.

“Offshore floating wind energy does not currently exist anywhere in the world in waters deeper than 300 meters or at the scale being contemplated for the West Coast,” the letter said. “In addition to the roadmap, Oregon would benefit significantly by learning from projects that are already moving forward, such as those on the East Coast and in California.”

Other signatories include more than 80 independent fishing vessel operators and nearly three dozen coastal businesses and business associations, including the Columbia River Crab Fishermen’s Association and West Coast Seafood Processors. Coalition members fear the floating offshore wind turbines would disrupt marine ecosystems and Oregon’s commercial fishing industry, with about $200 million in annual revenue, according to the Oregon Employment Department. 

“The roadmap is the only way to ensure a transparent and equitable approach to considering offshore wind energy,” the letter said.

 Five Oregon and California tribes also oppose the federal wind power plan. In November, the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians passed a resolution opposing offshore wind energy development, in part because federal officials had failed to respond to their concerns.

East Coast, California projects moving forward

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has auctioned five areas off the California coast to develop floating wind energy projects, and it approved six projects on the East Coast. They’re  part of the Biden administration’s plan to build up 15 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2035, with a total of 30 gigawatts deployed by 2030. 

The two wind energy areas being considered for development off Oregon’s Coast would add 2.4 gigawatts of clean power – enough to power about 830,000 homes – with installations covering more than 195,000 acres in total. One site, near Coos Bay, would span about 61,200 acres and be located more than 30 miles from shore, while the other site, near Brookings, would cover about 133,808 acres and float about 20 miles from shore.

Last year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management gave Oregonians several months to comment on the agency’s plans, and nearly 1,000 people weighed in. Agency officials also visited Brookings, Gold Beach and Coos Bay last fall to talk to fishing groups, officials and residents about installing wind turbines offshore. 

The agency recently denied a request by Oregon’s congressional members to extend a 30-day public comment period on the planning and the environmental assessment that needs to take place this summer. 

“Fishermen are hoping that a more forceful response from Gov. Kotek will change the tide,” the coalition said in a news release. 

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Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.