OSU-led project receives $2.5M to study community views of offshore wind energy

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(The Center Square) – A research team led by Oregon State University will receive up to $2.5 million to study how coastal communities feel about offshore wind development and the potential benefits they may see from such projects.

The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Pacific Marine Energy Center will administer the funding. The Center is “a consortium of universities led by OSU that works closely with coastal communities, ocean users, government agencies and technology developers for the responsible development of marine renewable energy,” according to a press release from OSU.

So far, local communities have been revealing negative views of offshore wind energy on the east coast. In states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, offshore wind proposals have faced opposition from residents of coastal communities.

Fishing groups have filed lawsuits hoping to block proposed offshore wind projects in those three states, as the Associated Press has pointed out. Additionally, the group ACK For Whales, a group of Nantucket residents who cite the safety of the North American Right Whale as its reason for opposing offshore wind, filed a lawsuit against a wind project in Massachusetts.

The federal government plans to lease areas off the coasts of Oregon, California and Maine for floating offshore wind energy projects. The government may let developers create agreements with coastal communities about various community benefits the companies would provide rather than paying rent to use the space.

Researchers on this project plan to interview and survey coastal residents to better understand their thoughts on wind developments in areas where it has been proposed.

“We’re trying to get the perspectives of the people who will be most affected by development if it occurs, and then we want to go back over time to see if perceptions change,” lead researcher Hilary Boudet, an associate professor of sociology in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, said.

Shawn Hazboun, assistant professor of sociology, is Boudet’s co-lead researcher at OSU.

The team wants to investigate how community benefit models have worked elsewhere and present its findings to coastal communities in Oregon, California and Maine to inform residents of what these deals may entail.

Pacific Marine Energy Center director Bryson Robertson said the project will create a better understanding of what responsible offshore development looks like from the perspective of the community, rather than merely the wind industry.

“So often, our attention as we assess potential energy technologies is focused on the electricity and environment, and we sort of ignore the social and human aspects,” Robertson said. “This funding really allows us to put those social aspects front and center and look at it from a more holistic viewpoint.”

Researchers noted that communities may express concerns about how offshore wind impacts fishing zones, transportation lanes, and areas that hold cultural significance to tribal communities.

The researchers plan to report their findings to the communities they study as they go along.

“I see what we’re doing as being useful for communities and for government officials at the federal, state, county, and local level, as well as for tribal governments,” Boudet said. “Communities can start to align and come together and maybe build capacity to negotiate with developers for benefits if that opportunity arises.”

Robertson also contends that the information will benefit developers by allowing them to understand what communities need to make these projects successful.

“We’ve looked at how we built energy infrastructure over the last 100 years, and it’s created a lot of negative impacts for local communities while benefits are being accrued by people far away. We need to change that paradigm,” Robertson said in the release. “We really need to make sure that, if development proceeds, those who are impacted do see some of the benefits.”

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