New West Coast Offshore Wind Science Consortium: ‘Essential Offshore Wind Energy Developed In Environmentally, Socially Responsible Ways’

A new West Coast collaboration for offshore wind science was announced last month. The Pacific Offshore Wind Consortium is a joint effort between three research centers: the Schatz Energy Research Center at Cal Poly Humboldt, the Pacific Marine Energy Center at Oregon State University, and the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Together, these universities are housed in and support the coastal communities in California and Oregon which are anticipated to host floating offshore wind development. The POWC (pronounced pow-sea) will enable universities, host communities, and Tribal nations to share resources, co-develop best practices, and design comprehensive research programs that reflect the dynamic nature of the ocean environment and the diversity of community perspectives.

The consortium will advance three pillars: (i) research and innovation, (ii) university-level workforce education and professional development, and (iii) community and Tribal engagement and knowledge exchange.

The Schatz Energy Research Center is located in the Humboldt Bay Area, which is preparing to house one of only two feasible staging and integration ports in California for offshore wind deployment. Humboldt is also home to two wind lease areas, which begin 20 miles offshore and span 207 square miles. Since 2018, the Schatz Center has published over 30 reports on topics ranging from transmission expansion to seabird vulnerability, in an effort to understand the feasibility of offshore wind, and to identify critical environmental and community needs that would be associated with its development. The Schatz Center works in close partnership with Tribal Nations, county services, and state government to design innovative solutions for clean power generation and energy resilience.

“We are coming together as a consortium because we know we need to take bold action to address climate change, and offshore wind has potential to play an important role. We also know that the transition to clean energy needs to happen in a way that is inclusive, equitable, and environmentally responsible,” says Arne Jacobson, Director of the Schatz Center. “As universities embedded in the regions where offshore wind is proposed, we have a special role to play, and – working in collaboration with partners – we can help generate the knowledge needed to transform our energy system in a way that does right by our communities and the planet.”

Environmental research for offshore wind includes baseline surveys, behavioral assessments, data integration and modeling, monitoring for protected species, planned mitigation, pathways for adaptive management, and transfer of lessons learned. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is home to the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences, which has a history of interdisciplinary, applied research to address a range of management issues for the Central Coast. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo works collaboratively with a variety of interest groups in the Morro Bay Area to promote and design effective environmental monitoring for offshore wind. The Morro Bay Wind Energy Area covers 376 square miles across three wind lease areas.

“It will be essential that any offshore wind energy projects are developed in environmentally and socially responsible ways,” says Benjamin Ruttenberg, Director of the Center of Coastal Marine Sciences. “While many of the key issues are common across regions, some will be area-specific. The diverse expertise across the POWC institutions, along with their deep understanding of local communities and regional environmental issues, makes this group extremely well-qualified to be a neutral and trusted source to generate and summarize scientific information that can inform and guide the conversations about whether and how to deploy offshore wind.”

The Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC) at Oregon State University brings over 15 years of experience investigating the technical, environmental, and social dimensions of offshore energy, and expanding scientific understanding, engaging stakeholders, and educating students. The Hatfield Marine Science Center at OSU serves as a hub for research on potential ecological effects of offshore renewable energy, while the PacWave test site demonstrates in-water activities and potential issues associated with offshore energy projects, such as seabed surveys, cable laying, construction and operational noise, and electromagnetic fields (EMF). PMEC also conducts significant hydrodynamic and aerodynamic studies of offshore wind platforms at the Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory. The State of Oregon is now considering how offshore wind could be incorporated with the environment, existing ocean uses, cultures, and communities, as lease sales for offshore floating wind sites are expected in fall 2024.

“This consortium will leverage the experience and expertise of the three partner universities and provide consistency of approach to evaluation of offshore wind along the west coast,” says Sarah Henkel, Associate Director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center at OSU. “We are excited that through this consortium we will have additional support to engage with our local communities, continue our regional ecological investigations, focus on development of next generation platform design, as well as collaborate and share findings to build a comprehensive understanding of outcomes related to potential offshore wind deployment.”

POWC Advisory Committee

The POWC will support interdisciplinary understanding across academia, industry, agencies, community organizations, and Tribal Nations. This breadth is reflected in the consortium’s Advisory Committee, which recently convened for its inaugural meeting. As a non-governing committee, the advisory group will provide guidance and advance discussion and collaboration in the offshore wind space.

Founding members include representatives from Tribal Nations: Jason Ramos and Heidi Moore-Guynup, Blue Lake Rancheria, Linnea Jackson, Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District, and Michael Gerace, Lana McCovey and Philip Williams, Yurok Tribe.

State agencies: Jenn Eckerle and Justine Kimball, California Natural Resources Agency / California Ocean Protection Council, Katerina Robinson and Jessica Eckdish, California Energy Commission, Andy Lanier, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, and Jason Sierman, Oregon Department of Energy.

Federal labs, agencies, and Sea Grant partnerships: Alicia Mahon, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Karina Nielsen, Oregon Sea Grant, Shauna Oh, California Sea Grant and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Eric P. Bjorkstedt, NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Ecosystem Science Division and Department of Fisheries Biology, Cal Poly Humboldt.

Philanthropy: Curtis Seymour, AC Strategies; and the Offshore wind industry: Ciara Emery and Joel Southall, RWE Offshore Wind Holdings, LLC, and Laura Nagy and Erik Peckar, Vineyard Offshore.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria recognises the urgency of the climate crisis and intends to leverage their knowledge and resources to continue to advance clean energy innovations,” says Heidi Moore-Guynup, Director of Tribal and Government Affairs at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR). “At the same time, BLR understands the imperative need to coordinate scientific inquiry and research and believes that Traditional Ecological Knowledge must be part of such inquiry. BLR is honored to serve on the POWC advisory committee and looks forward to uplifting the findings of this consortium.”

“Oregon Sea Grant understands the broad spectrum of challenges and opportunities that floating offshore wind energy brings to the US West Coast. There is a clear and urgent need for regional integration of science and knowledge across many disciplines to enable responsible development of offshore wind energy,” said Karina Nielsen, Director of Oregon Sea Grant. “We look forward to partnering with POWC, our sister Sea Grant programs in California and Washington, the National Sea Grant Offshore Wind Energy Liaison, and other partners to support co-developed research and community education to help our coastal communities and marine ecosystems thrive.”

POWC funding

Over $12 million in current grant funding, primarily from state and federal agencies, supports offshore renewables research and project work at the three centers. Additionally, the POWC itself has received commitments for $1.6 million in starting funds from private donors and industry.

“Growing an offshore wind industry that’s responsible, equitable and inclusive requires sustained commitments and deep collaboration,” said Alicia Barton, CEO of Vineyard Offshore. “We are delighted to support and participate in the new Pacific Offshore Wind Consortium. Anchored by three world-class research institutions, the Consortium will foster meaningful engagement, research and collaboration within the west coast offshore wind industry. Our partnership in this effort reinforces Vineyard Offshore’s dedication to enhancing opportunities for Tribal Nations, underserved communities, and local businesses while preparing students and others for careers in this burgeoning field.”

“We’re proud to be supporting the world-class research of Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Oregon State University and to contribute to an effort that meets the needs of the Humboldt region,” said Sam Eaton, CEO of RWE US Offshore Wind Holdings. “Community engagement is a core principle of RWE’s approach to developing offshore wind projects, including our Canopy Offshore Wind project off of Northern California. The Humboldt community will help us shape this project as well as the future of offshore wind on the Pacific Coast. Offshore wind will play an essential role in our clean energy future, job creation and local economic development, and the Pacific Offshore Wind Consortium’s work will provide valuable insights into the responsible development of this renewable resource.”

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