By Keith Tymchuk
October 3, 2015
It’s no secret that Oregon’s coastal communities have been struggling for a very long time.
As a six-term mayor of Reedsport and in my 35th year as a high school teacher, I see firsthand and every day the impact that the loss of skilled labor jobs (and their wages) has had on our coastal communities, our families and our children. Once thriving with timber-related jobs, towns north and south along the coast have been in a downward economic spiral for more than two decades.
We have an opportunity to change course. And while there are no simple solutions, our communities do have unique assets – natural resources, skilled labor, port and freight infrastructure and a history of resilience and innovation – that point the way to a brighter future.
Last month, Gov. Kate Brown announced the formation of an Offshore Wind Advisory Committee to investigate the development, siting and production of an innovative offshore wind demonstration project, WindFloat Pacific, here in Oregon.
While offshore wind energy is relatively new to the U.S., it is among Europe’s fastest-growing energy sources. As the governor noted in her announcement, the project would develop a new sustainable energy source while delivering a much-needed infusion into our state’s rural and coastal economies.
The WindFloat Pacific Project would invest millions of dollars into Oregon’s coastal communities – dollars from private investors, as well as a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE grant is part of a national effort to move our country further toward energy independence.
These federal dollars are going to be spent somewhere; why not Oregon? The project, and the industry it will help jump-start, can create hundreds of new family wage jobs – engineers, environmental scientists, technicians, skilled trades and more – while investing millions of dollars into research, job training and local infrastructure.
This project can position Oregon’s coast to become the center for the West Coast’s offshore wind industry, creating a new energy pipeline for our state and beyond. By 2030, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that West Coast offshore wind supply will support more than 25,000 jobs.
Some critics point to potential impacts on the fishing industry and consumer electricity prices as causes for concern. However, the WindFloat Pacific Project is a demonstration project specifically designed to address those issues. First, it would be located nearly 18 miles at sea, in an area with minimal conflicts with Oregon’s fishing fleets (itself a critical generator of coastal jobs).
Second, at just 20 megawatts or so, the project is quite small and studies indicate it would have minimal impact on electric bills. As offshore wind energy scales up in future years, a recent Ernst and Young study indicates that prices will become highly competitive with other energy sources.
There is little question that offshore wind is going to become an important part of energy mix in the United States. The only question now is where in the United States does this industry take off? The answer should be – and can be – Oregon.
WindFloat Pacific project developers have identified Oregon as their preferred location and the U.S. DOE agrees. It is now up to Oregon – and the advisory committee as our proxy – to make it so.
Keith Tymchuk of Reedsport is a former six-term mayor of Reedsport and a current Port of Umpqua commissioner. He can be reached at (541) 271-4670.