Could an Offshore Wind Farm in SLO County Hurt Endangered Whales?

Two companies are eyeing the Central Coast as a promising location for the first offshore wind farm on the West Coast — a move that concerns conservationists and the local fishing industry.

Their fears? Miles of underwater cables could trap whales. Constant underwater noise might interrupt sea life navigation and communication. Birds could be killed by spinning windmill blades, and access could be lost to large swaths of fishing grounds for black cod and swordfish.

Federal waters off the Central Coast may be leased to an energy company as soon as next year. A meeting held in San Luis Obispo this month about the effort to identify a potential area for offshore energy projects drew 100 people. Another public meeting is planned for June.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of planning,” said John Romero, public affairs officer for the Pacific Region of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which held the meeting.

What would a wind farm look like?

In California, deep water near shore would require companies to use floating wind turbines that would be anchored to the sea floor with a network of mooring and anchoring cables.

offshore wind how it works

Energy captured by offshore wind turbines on the Central Coast would be transmitted by cable to shore, where it could connect to California’s grid through either the Morro Bay Power Plant or the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2025. Floating turbines would be connected by cables and anchored to the ocean floor. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Trident Winds LLC last year proposed to lease about 50 square miles to install 100 floating wind turbines that would generate 7 to 8 megawatts of energy. The area is on the southwest border of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, about 26 miles off the shore of Point Estero in water 2,600 to 3,300 feet deep.

Statoil Wind US, LLC has told federal regulators that it’s interested in the same area asTrident.

In response to Trident’s proposal, various organizations have expressed concern about potential impacts. Among their concerns:

▪  Underwater cables have the potential to entangle or alter migration patterns of marine mammals, including endangered species like the blue, gray and humpback whales that have been seen in the area, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a letter to BOEM.

Environmental groups have called for more research about seabird and marine activity in the area, as well as the effects of turbines on birds, underwater sound generated by turbines, and the introduction of electromagnetic fields on marine organisms.

▪  The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians Tribal Elders Council opposed the lease requestbecause of the unknown impacts of wind turbines on an important ceremonial location in the area.

▪  The World Shipping Council said there is significant commercial shipping activity in the area proposed by Trident, saying that “placing wind energy facilities too close to maritime traffic routes would risk the safe navigation of vessels.”

▪  The fishing industry could lose access to large swaths of ocean, particularly if the federal government sells a lease to more than one area for wind development. A second wind farm could connect to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2025. It’s unlikely that fishing would be allowed in or around the wind farms.

“Physically, it would be impossible,” said Jeremiah O’Brien, vice president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization.

Studies and data to answer concerns are being gathered and public participation is encouraged. No offshore leases would be issued until environmental studies and analysis are done under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Explore maps and share information on the California Offshore Wind Energy Gateway at https://caoffshorewind.databasin.org/

Could an Offshore Wind Farm in SLO County Hurt Endangered Whales?, by Monica Vaughan, The Tribune, April 27, 2017.

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