According to a 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, Oregon's total technical potential for floating OSW capacity in ocean depths from 60 – 1000 meters is 60 gigawatts.
Floating OSW energy is similar and different compared to the bottom-fixed OSW energy being developed on the East Coast. While they both generate power from the movement of wind across the ocean, they differ greatly in anchoring technology, scale, energy output, and cost.
Off the East Coast, the ocean floor gradually descends over a great distance, resulting in relatively large areas of shallow water depths less than 60 meters – which are depths where OSW towers can be directly anchored into the seafloor, similarly to how land-based wind towers are directly fixed into the ground, hence the name bottom-fixed OSW.
Off the West Coast, including Oregon, the ocean floor drops steeply to water depths greater than 60 meters – which are depths that require massive floating platforms to support and anchor the OSW towers in place, hence the name floating OSW.
In addition to enabling OSW at deeper depths, the buoyancy, footprint, and mobility of floating platforms also enable the size and scale of OSW towers, turbines, and blades to be much larger with floating OSW compared to bottom-fixed OSW. The larger scale and use of floating platforms add significant upfront costs compared to smaller, bottom-fixed OSW projects. On the other hand – if comparing projects with equal amounts of OSW turbines – the larger, higher cost floating OSW project will also generate significantly larger volumes of energy than a bottom-fixed OSW project. This cost to benefit tradeoff is one of many considerations involved with any overall assessment of the benefits and challenges of floating OSW and planning for its potential development.
OSW In Oregon
In 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 3375. The law declared a state goal to plan for the development of up to 3 gigawatts of floating OSW energy projects within federal waters off the Oregon coast by 2030 – and directed ODOE to study and report on the benefits and challenges. As a result, Oregon policy recognizes the merits of studying and planning for floating OSW, though Oregon has not committed to deployment targets. For more information on Oregon's clean energy policies, and the benefits and challenges of floating OSW off Oregon's coast, see ODOE's 2022 Floating OSW Study & Report.
Floating OSW would be located in federal waters, beginning 3 nautical miles from shore and extending out to 200 nautical miles from shore. Federal waters cover the Outer Continental Shelf, which are owned by the U.S. Department of Interior and managed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
BOEM leads the ocean area leasing process for all types of potential development activity for ocean-based energy projects within Federal waters, including OSW and marine hydrokinetic. BOEM is also responsible for permitting the construction and operation of OSW projects.