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In Our View: Wind power prepares United States for future

The Columbian
Published: February 15, 2024, 6:03am

When it comes to developing alternative energy and combating climate change, President Joe Biden is not just full of hot air. New plans for wind farms off the Oregon Coast add to the administration’s record of concrete projects preparing for the nation’s energy future.

On Tuesday, the federal government finalized a proposal for two large wind farms in Southern Oregon. One would be 32 miles off the coast of Coos Bay; the other is planned for 18 miles from the shore of Brookings.

The distance from land represents a difference from the public’s typical understanding of offshore wind farms. It also represents technological advancements in offshore energy production.

As The Seattle Times explained last year: “Until recently, offshore wind turbines were built on top of steel structures that extended 100 to 200 feet into the ocean floor. That method is unfeasible to install on the Pacific Coast due to its steep drop-offs from the continental shelf of more than 600 feet. Now, new technology has made it possible to install wind turbines taller than the Space Needle on floating platforms tethered to the ocean floor.”

The impetus for the plan, of course, is climate change. Reducing the use of fossil fuels is essential to slow the warming that is leading to an increase in wildfires, extreme weather events and environmental changes.

While acknowledging this need, the Biden administration also has recognized that reducing fossil fuel extraction requires cost-effective alternatives. As those alternatives are developed, the United States in 2023 extracted record levels of crude oil and natural gas. This belies false, frequently repeated claims that Biden’s policies are destroying the nation’s energy production.

But change to that production is coming, and U.S. Department of Energy officials said the Oregon wind farms would produce enough electricity to power approximately 800,000 homes.

Meanwhile, the proposal demonstrates the wisdom of Washington’s efforts to become a leader in alternative energy. Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee joined representatives of the port and maritime industries in announcing an initiative to boost manufacturing of wind turbines, the platforms they stand upon and the cables that anchor those platforms to the ocean floor. Vancouver’s Thompson Metal Fab is among the companies that can benefit from such a transition.

It is a wise strategy that fits in with the state’s larger climate goals. Initiatives to reduce the use of fossil fuels should be viewed as an economic opportunity rather than an oppressive burden.

That is not to suggest that offshore wind turbines are a panacea; there are drawbacks to consider. Commercial fishers and Native American groups in Oregon have complained that the latest plan did not properly weigh their concerns. “We are furious with this surprise announcement, literally stunned,” one representative told OregonLive.com. “None of our concerns have been addressed.”

Environmentalists have argued that ocean-based wind turbines are harmful to whales, fish and birds. There also are concerns about the lifespan of turbines and the waste that is created when they are replaced.

These are issues that must be honestly weighed. But several facts are immutable: The nation needs electricity to power its economy and sustain our way of life; all forms of energy production have drawbacks; and the use of fossil fuels presents a well-documented threat that calls for innovation.

In seizing upon wind power as a reasonable alternative, the Biden administration is effectively navigating the labyrinth created by those facts.