Wind Farm Idea Aired
by Leif Nesheim
The Daily World, February 9, 2008
Burton Hamner came into town to find out which way the wind is blowing. He already knows the wind off the coast has great potential to be turned into electricity with massive wind-powered turbines. But he wants the community's support for his plan to harness that power.
At a public meeting Friday morning at the Port of Grays Harbor, he found area commercial and sport fishermen weren't keen on the idea.
"We look at this as a monstrosity," said Ray Toste, president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen's Association. "This will literally stop commercial fishing."
He and other men who make their living from the sea said wind farm towers, anchors and transmission cables - even if the cables are buried - could threaten their livelihood by reducing the area in which they can fish and crab and potentially harm the fish themselves.
Even if crab boats are allowed near the towers - which the federal government may forbid for security reasons - their fishing equipment would likely get entangled in the wind farm infrastructure, they said.
"Crab pots move 7, 10, even 12 miles in a storm," said Westport commercial fisherman Ron Harper. "We will have massive tangle-ups."
"We keep losing more and more of our fishing grounds," said Westport commercial fisherman Butch Henry. "Every day we're fighting with somebody to preserve our fishing grounds ... we're just squeezed into a smaller and smaller area."
Hamner said he expected fishermen to be leery of his plan.
"Nobody who's a fisherman looks at these things with a smile on their face at first," he said. That's why, Hamner said, he wants to include everybody affected from the earliest planning stages. To get state and federal officials to give the go-ahead for a plan of this scope, the local community must support it, he said.
Hamner - who was hired in early 2007 by Tacoma Power to direct a team of leading Northwest marine engineering and environmental experts studying tidal power generation in the Tacoma Narrows - has formed a new company to propose a wind and wave energy project just off the coast.
Unlike Tacoma, which his team determined wouldn't be able to produce affordable electricity using tidal energy, Grays Harbor has many advantages that hint at the possibility of feasible alternative energy production, Hamner said.
The wind coming off the ocean between Long Beach and Copalis is considered category 6-7, the best for wind-powered electricity generation. The coast is shallow - 10 miles offshore the sea is only 180 feet deep - and the world's largest offshore wind turbine is installed at a depth of 150 feet. Three miles out, the depth is just 60-70 feet, the depth of most existing wind generators in Europe. Floating wind turbines are a feasible technology just a few years down the road, Hamner said, meaning the wind farm could be even further off shore.
Current offshore wind generators create 5 megawatts of electricity apiece. Typically, they are spaced one per square kilometer. From Copalis to Long Beach there are 1,300 square kilometers - 500 square miles - of water less than 180 feet deep.
Nuke site factors in
Furthermore, transmission lines left behind at the defunct Satsop nuclear power plant project means they don't have to be built from scratch, Hamner said.
"Boy are you lucky somebody left an abandoned nuke (site) on your doorstep," he said.
Area shipyards would be able to build many of the components for the wind turbines and towers, he said.
"This is big industry, folks," Hamner said.
Hamner's company, Hydrovolts, Inc., has applied for a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop an offshore wind/wave energy project. That's a preliminary step required to allow study of the proposal.
What Hamner said he next wants to see is community support for the idea so the project could successfully compete for federal funds needed to study the proposal and find the most cost-effective operating plan that would do the least harm to the environment and existing industries, such as commercial and sport fishing.
"If you all say 'no, we don't like it,' we'll forget it," Hamner said.
He said he hopes he can at least convince people the idea is worthy of study so the potential and risk can be assessed. For example, the effect on migrating whales and birds isn't known, Hamner said. Studies in England have shown that similar wind farms kill fewer birds than a typical home because the arms turn much slower on large, modern wind turbines than earlier versions that proved fatal to hundreds of birds, he said. However, similar studies would have to be performed here before the actual effects would be known, he said.
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