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Wind-energy project group will meet in secret

Despite her promises of transparency in government, Gov. Kate Brown's office says an advisory group for an ocean energy pilot project will meet in secret.

By Hillary Borrud

Capital Bureau

Published on September 17, 2015 12:01AM

The first foundation jacket installed by Deepwater Wind in the nation’s first offshore wind farm construction project is seen next to a construction crane on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, R.I., in July. With construction underway, two Louisiana firms with roots in the oil and gas industry are playing a leading part in what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Once it’s operating next year, Deepwater Wind’s Block Island project is in line to generate 30 megawatts of electricity — enough power for 17,200 homes — roughly 3 miles off Rhode Island’s coast.

Stephan Savoia/AP File Photo

The first foundation jacket installed by Deepwater Wind in the nation’s first offshore wind farm construction project is seen next to a construction crane on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, R.I., in July. With construction underway, two Louisiana firms with roots in the oil and gas industry are playing a leading part in what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Once it’s operating next year, Deepwater Wind’s Block Island project is in line to generate 30 megawatts of electricity — enough power for 17,200 homes — roughly 3 miles off Rhode Island’s coast.


SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown has made transparency a top issue since she took office in February amid a scandal over alleged influence peddling that led former Gov. John Kitzhaber to resign.

However, there are some workings of state government which Brown does not plan to make public. This week a spokesman for the administration said an offshore wind-energy project advisory group formed to assist a specific company’s project will meet in private. Spokesman Chris Pair also declined to provide any information on how Brown will select members of the advisory committee, writing in an email that “the committee will be composed of various stakeholders.”

“The Governor’s Office will is currently selecting members of the advisory committee,” Pair wrote. He added that the committee “will meet soon” and deliver a report in January.

Brown announced in late August that she created the advisory committee to help the state land a pilot project with the company Principle Power. Principle Power has a $46.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the first offshore wind demonstration project on the Pacific Coast and is interested in a site 18 miles off the coast of Coos Bay, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.

Although the Brown administration is not telling the public who will be on the advisory committee, an article on the website Rechargenews.com this week provided a list of the interest groups that will be represented on the committee: “state agencies, the Public Utility Commission, electric utilities, fishing interests, ratepayer and renewable energy advocates, and other stakeholders.” The article appeared to be based primarily on an interview with Kevin Banister, an executive with Principle Power, as well as legislative records and Brown’s press release announcing the committee.

In the article, Banister said the company plans to downscale the project from its earlier 30-megawatt proposal to 24 megawatts or less, because the initial plan “was a little bigger than the appetite in the state.”

According to the article, Brown formed the advisory committee to help Principle Power find a way forward after the company failed to meet a deadline to locate a long-term buyer for electricity from the project. Principle Power was supposed to find a buyer before it could receive some of the funding from U.S. Department of Energy.

A bill in the 2015 legislative session — House Bill 2216, sponsored by Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay — would have required Oregon utilities to purchase power from the project. Offshore renewable energy is currently more expensive than other power sources available in Oregon, and supporters have said that’s one reason there are not yet any permanent projects off the coast.

The Citizens’ Utility Board and Industrial Customers of NW Utilities joined with Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp in opposing the bill, saying utilities can already purchase onshore wind power at a fraction of the price for offshore wind.

“As groups that don’t often agree on energy policy, we are firmly united in asking you to vote no on HB 2216,” the groups wrote in an April 21 email to lawmakers.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, helped keep the bill alive when she ordered its referral to the House Committee on Rules in April. In the end, the bill died in committee. The Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a nonprofit that receives a majority of its funding from the state, has provided a grant of an unidentified amount to the Principle Power project.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Insider newsletter. To subscribe, go to oregoncapitalinsider.com



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