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New hire at Oregon Sea Grant to foster community engagement on offshore wind

Turbines at America’s first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company Orsted, produce energy off the coast of Rhode Island.
David Goldman
AP Photo
Turbines at America’s first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company Orsted, produce energy off the coast of Rhode Island.

Floating offshore wind turbines will soon be built off the Southern Oregon Coast. But offshore wind is still a new concept on the West Coast, and it’s been a contentious process.

In order to help community members learn more about how offshore wind works, and how they can be involved in its rollout, the Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University recently hired Sara Swett, a specialist in offshore wind and community engagement. She recently spoke with JPR’s Roman Battaglia about her new role.

Sara Swett: My position is new. I am the marine renewable energy and communities extension specialist. The goal of having this position was really to increase the capacity for Oregon Sea Grant to be focusing on offshore wind. I will be eventually developing and implementing some community engagement programs focused on floating offshore wind projects. Our goal is to strengthen that two-way authentic engagement. So I'll be working with interested parties and communities to really understand their needs and their concerns, suggestions, perceptions of offshore wind.

A woman with long brown hair and gold hoop earrings smiling at the camera
Oregon State University
Sara Swett will be working with coastal communities to introduce more education and outreach around offshore wind projects.

Roman Battaglia: What do you anticipate some of the big challenges might be in this role or in educating the public here?

SS: Right now I would say the biggest challenge is creating general awareness of what offshore wind is. Because it's so new to our country, and especially to the West Coast. And floating offshore wind will also be a new technology in the United States. So there are a lot of people who are already really engaged on the topic in Oregon and on the West Coast. But, I think there's still a lot of people who don't really know much about the industry and what it is. So I think increasing the general understanding of it is probably going to be a big goal of ours. Another challenge will be just making sure that all perspectives are included, because there are a lot of varying perspectives on offshore wind. So we'll be working really hard to make sure we are engaging with and including and recognizing all of those voices in the process.

RB: Part of the reason you're here now is that there are some offshore wind areas proposed off the Oregon coast. Where where are we in that process? And how can people kind of get involved if they want to get more educated?

SS: There were two final wind energy areas that were designated by the federal government this year by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. They're projecting to have an auction for those wind energy areas in October of this year. Even after the auction — depending on whatever happens — there will be tons of places where people and communities can get involved in the process. Right now, prior to that auction, a lot of that will be focused on, "What does that auction look like? What will be the terms of the leases?" So talking to people and really learning what people want and what people don't want, or if Oregon is going to get involved in BOEM's offshore wind process and possibly procure offshore wind for the state. That's going to be a huge part of these next few months before that auction.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.