Principle Power, a Seattle company, has been given the go-ahead by state and federal officials to develop plans to build the West Coast’s first offshore, floating wind-energy farm.


The company is planning a 30-megawatt (MW) endeavor called WindFloat Pacific Project that would consist of five turbine units, tethered 16 nautical miles from Coos Bay, Ore. Floating approximately 1,400 feet above the ocean floor, the turbines would be connected by a cable transmitting electricity to the mainland.


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, recently announced this development at a press conference.


Several offshore projects are in the works on the Atlantic coast, but they don’t use floating platform technology. Instead, they are anchored to the seabed.


Experts say the West Coast has not yet seen offshore wind projects because the technology needs are different.


“The ocean gets deeper more quickly on the West Coast than on the East Coast, so turbine towers cannot be planted directly into the seabed,” said Belinda Batten, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University. “That’s why turbines must be supported on floating platforms.”


Another challenge in bringing the technology to Oregon is the price tag. But that should not be a deterrent, Batten said.


In December 2012, Principle Power received $4 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for the project. It was one of seven to receive funding and the only one on the West Coast. The DOE plans to select up to three of the original seven proposals to go forward with an additional $46.6 million.


Principle Power hopes to have the floating turbine units deployed by 2017, at a cost of about $200 million. Now that the Interior Department has found no competitive interest in the proposed area, Principle Power is preparing a more detailed construction and operations plan, which it hopes to submit to the agency by late 2014.