Principle Power has operated a full-scale prototype WindFloat off the coast of Portugal since 2011. Photo via Principle Power.

Winds coming off the Pacific Coast could soon provide energy to Americans thanks to a Seattle company.

principlepower1Principle Power, a renewable energy technology developer headquartered in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, received a go-ahead from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to submit a formal proposal to use 15 square miles of federal waters off the Oregon Coast for its $200 million WindFloat project.

The project would use five floating platforms with 6-megawatt turbines near Coos Bay, Ore., and would be the first floating offshore wind-energy project installed in the U.S. It would also be the first offshore wind project off the West Coast and could generate enough electricity to power 10,000-to-12,000 typical homes each year.

principlepower2Each WindFloat measures 600 feet tall and would be secured by three mooring lines to keep it from floating away. Principle Power has spent more than two years operating a prototype WindFloat off the coast of Portugal that is producing electricity and sending it to the grid. The company said that the prototype has weathered 50-foot waves and had no problems with similar storm events.

Back in December 2012, Principle Power received $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for this project. Principle wants to have the windfarm operational by 2017, but the government wants to make sure beforehand that it understands how this project would affect things like fishing industries and the marine ecosystem. However, Principle has been talking to local commercial fishing fleets since 2011 about the proposed site and notes that it is outside of navigation and transit corridors.

While installation of offshore wind farms have been slow in the U.S., European Union countries have built more than 2,000 offshore turbines that provide 6,562 megawatts of capacity.

Check out the video below to see how Principle installed its prototype in Portugal:


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  • Peebles Squire

    Oregon is helping to pave the way toward an American energy mix that is more secure, reliable, and cleaner, too.

    Wind power can lead us to increased energy independence while reducing costs and pollution, especially carbon dioxide emissions. The more than 60 gigawatts of installed wind capacity at the end of 2013 already offsets nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road. Those offsets are permanent for the life of a project.

    The addition of offshore wind to the United States’ already impressive generating portfolio of land-based wind power demonstrates that the American appetite for finding solutions to complex problems, such as our energy future, will go on.

    Peebles Squire
    American Wind Energy Association

  • Aaron

    Good God. $200M for five little offshore towers delivering a paltry 30MW whenever the sea breeze is favorable? I’m afraid to ask who’s paying for this — surely the most expensive energy by orders of magnitude.

    • Do the math

      So let’s do the math and see. Lets say they average only half the 30MW capacity. So each day they generate 15MW * 24 hours = 360MWh. Converting to the more conventional KWh we are used to seeing on our electric bills, that 360,000 KWh each day. At a nice round $0.10 / KWh, thats $36,000 worth of electricity a day. Allowing for a bit of downtime for maintenance. that still about $12 million a year. So, assuming today’s rock bottom bond interest rates, they are paid off in about 20 years.

      This is all back of the envelope, and I don’t know things like whether the $200 million is just the purchase and installation cost or if it includes operations, but the price is clearly not off by orders of magnitude as you suggest. For a prototype it seems not bad at all.

      • Aaron

        But… you haven’t actually compared anything. *shrug*

        Let’s pick something to compare to: Grand Coulee Dam averages 57,000,000 KWh each day on average. This is 158 times the energy of this prototype wind farm, if we use your 50% figure (I can’t say whether that’s reliable). The dam cost $168M and construction began in 1933. If we use the Consumer Price Index to scale this figure to a present-day price tag (probably not entirely accurate, but pretty close), we have a cool $3B — 15 times the cost of the wind farm. So perhaps not “orders,” but yes, *an order* of magnitude off. Comparing energy production per construction dollar, the dam is more than 10x as efficient.

        But yes, there are operating costs to figure in, and we don’t have those. Those will obviously scale as the size and complexity of the facility go up. Maintenance of a wind farm does, off hand, seem somewhat simpler and cheaper than that of a dam, but then the wind farm is off-shore, and access is much more costly. So… who knows?

        One question I have would be this: If we believe we have a good spot for a wind farm, then why not build a real one — one that can actually compete with other big commercial power plants. Wind farms aren’t rocket science. Why do we need a prototype at such a cost? These energy startups feel like the Dot-Bomb thing all over again. We hear “renewable energy” and we all open our pocketbooks. There is good work to be done, but let’s not be stupid about it.

        • More math

          The comparison to alternatives is there, but was probably too implicit. It came in the form of the price per KWh of $0.10. That’s pretty typical of consumer prices in Oregon. Essentially, the question was whether the market cost of electricity supports the $200MM price tag for this project over a 20 year life. And it basically does.

          Another way, if you want to look just at construction cost, is that at $200 million for 30MW it costs just under $7,000 per kW. A quick google found (from 2008) which puts new coal plants at $3,500 per kW. That’s half the price of this project, but then you still have to buy the coal to fire it. Again not orders, or even an order of magnitude. And that is comparing mature technology to a prototype.

          • Aaron

            I can’t argue the cost of coal plants, nor would I wish to imply that building more coal plants is the answer.
            A consumer price of $.10/kWh cannot be applied directly to the cost of the facility. The prototype does not deliver energy to consumers, nor does in plan to. Any delivery would be via somebody else’s utility infrastructure, and that somebody else is taking a big cut. Net income per kWh after paying the middlemen is going to be a lot less than $.10/kWh.

            I agree that comparing a prototype by a small company to a dam owned by the government, or to companies like Puget Sound Energy, who in some instances own everything from the generator to the customer’s meter, isn’t fair. Really, I would just ask: How does this scale? Again, after the initial $200M, what does it cost to get to GWe capacity? Something that’ll make a real dent?

            Washington State’s one nuke plant (Columbia Generating Station) generates 10% of the state’s electricity. Grand Coulee Dam generates more than 20%. Those are big dents made by technologies which were not exactly “mature” at the times of their respective constructions. Wind turbines are about as fresh today as nukes were in 1970. I can’t help but feel we’re paying an exorbitant fee for a no-name company to build a rather straightforward evolutionary project using largely-proven technologies — a big YAWN. Call it a prototype, fine. But if it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, what did it accomplish?

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