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Views wanted on plan for offshore wind farms along San Luis Obispo County’s coast

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management—also known as BOEM—is an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, and is in charge of leasing America’s federal coastal waters, whether it’s for petroleum oil and gas exploration, or renewable energy projects.

After consulting with the military and various industry stakeholders, BOEM and the California Energy Commission have released draft maps of potential lease areas off California’s coast that possess the necessary conditions to support large-scale wind farms.

Offshore of the state’s roughly 840 miles of coastline, there are just three areas where the wind blows with enough consistency and speed for such farms. Two are off San Luis Obispo County’s coast, one near the soon-to-be-decommissioned Diablo Canyon Power Plant and the other off the coast of Morro Bay. The third is Humboldt County near Eureka.

“There’s limited places offshore California where you can actually do offshore wind energy,” said Jean Thurston, a BOEM renewable energy specialist focused on the Pacific region. “You need greater than seven meters per second wind speed for it to be economically viable, for a developer to even want to put a project in. So looking at the cost-benefit analysis, that’s the kind of the cut-off point.”

Thurston said other considerations in figuring out locations for offshore wind farm are water depth, and finding areas that aren’t already located in a marine sanctuary. In the end, just six percent of California’s offshore areas has the right conditions. And besides the technical needs, there’s other users and uses of those marine areas to factor in.

“We want to pick areas that minimize conflicts,” Thurston said. “Now we know—looking at all the areas offshore that are viable—there’s no area that’s going to be conflict free. So we’re trying to look at areas that have the least amount of conflict,”

Groups wary of setting up offshore wind farms are the fishing and shipping industries, and those who say wind farms will harm marine mammals like migrating whales, due to dangers of entanglement and undersea noise.

For the area off Morro Bay, local fishermen have made an agreement with one of the wind energy developers, said Eric Endersby, Morro Bay’s harbor director.

“The fishing community has supported, the fishing community has signed onto an agreement with Castle Winds, the proponent that’s pushing one of the projects right now,” Endersby said. “But it will impact the fishing community because it’s basically taking some fishing grounds off limits, where they won’t be able to fish, and so they’ve mitigated that, and the fishermen are happy with what they’ve agreed with.”

The search for possible offshore wind energy development areas started with a proposal from the company Trident Winds, now known as Castle Winds. That application kicked off a whole planning process with the state and federal government to look at offshore wind energy in California.

“Instead of just responding to requests site-specifically, why don’t we as a state look at where the wind resources are and where the need is and where the most environmentally-sensitive areas are to avoid, and really think about where we would want offshore wind if we were to approve a project,” said Kristen Hislop, marine conservation program director with the Environmental Defense Center.

The EDC has been active in the process of figuring out where offshore leases should go, from an environmental stance. Staff have submitted ideas on the types of research, studies and monitoring efforts necessary to protect the marine environment.

“We haven’t taken a stance on whether or not we’re for or against offshore wind [development], but we but we are very interested in being part of the process and figuring out if we can help influence in a positive way where these things might be sited,” Hislop said. “And also determine if it’s the best way to get renewable energy for the state.”

In mid-December, BOEM held an open house in San Luis Obispo to answer questions from the public. A few dozen people showed up to speak to staff from various agencies involved in the decision making process, and to submit public comment. Frank Pendleton does mapping for BOEM.

“Someone knows a lot about the birds in the area, someone knows a lot about the whales, we want to hear from them,” Pendleton said. “[If someone knows] a lot about who fishes where in the area…we’ve opened the comment period now, and that’s what we want to hear from folks—how this could affect them.”

Public comments can be submitted here until January 28, 2019.

 

Views wanted on plan for offshore wind farms along San Luis Obispo County’s coast, Greta Mart, KCBX Central Coast, January 9, 2019.

Floating Wind Farms for California Move a Step Closer to Reality

The political stars are aligning to start offshore wind on floating turbines along the West Coast as the region gears up to harness a potential new source of clean power.

Offshore wind is expected to play an important role in cutting U.S. carbon emissions to tackle climate change. Winds howling across open coastal waters constitute one of America’s largest untapped sources of carbon-free electricity.

Eventual development, however, depends on the industry’s ability to overcome huge hurdles.

The Trump administration took the first step Oct. 19 toward allowing companies to eventually lease California coastal waters for offshore wind farm development, including areas west of Eureka, Morro Bay, and Diablo Canyon. So far, two developers—Castle Wind LLC and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority—say they hope to build floating wind farms in some of those areas by the mid-2020s.

Nationally, 12 federal offshore leases have been issued—all on the East Coast—and the first wind farms there are expected to begin operating in the early 2020s. North America’s first and so far only offshore wind farm serves the residents of Block Island, R.I.

Unlike East Coast offshore wind, though, California’s offshore turbines would have to float, because the ocean floor is too deep there to safely and affordably anchor the turbines.

“Floating turbines open up the possibility for California to obtain 50-75 percent of its all-purpose end-use [electric] power from wind,” Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program at Stanford University, told Bloomberg Environment.

Today, however, no offshore wind turbines operate on the West Coast, and only a handful operate worldwide. Offshore wind developers in California must sort out technological challenges as well as coexisting with military operations on the West Coast and bird populations.

But if the industry leaps those hurdles, commercial development on the West Coast by the mid-2020s is reasonable, Walt Musial, offshore wind manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Bloomberg Environment.

“The industry’s moving fairly quickly,” Musial said, and it will be up to California’s state regulatory process to develop a strategy for offshore wind.

Decarbonizing California

Wind is expected to factor prominently into California’s climate goals, which include decarbonizing its electric power sector by generating all of its electricity from renewables by 2045. Most of the state’s carbon-free electricity today is hydro and solar power.

The floating turbines the West would need are just being tested and haven’t yet been put into broad commercial use, but they can save wind developers money compared to turbine foundations fixed to the ocean floor because they require fewer personnel to build and can be mass produced, Musial said.

The operator of the world’s only operating floating wind farm, Equinor ASA, is evaluating potential opportunities in several U.S. states, spokeswoman Elin Isaksen told Bloomberg Environment.

“We believe there is a huge potential of offshore wind globally,” she said.

Floating wind technology is approaching the “commercial maturity point in Europe,” Castle Wind CEO Alla Weinstein told Bloomberg Environment Oct. 17, adding that the company is seeking turbines that provide energy that is cost-competitive in California.

Conflicts

Turning such cutting-edge wind technology into a thriving offshore wind industry won’t be easy.

“There are some major challenges to overcome on the West Coast: The Defense Department has a pretty large jurisdiction on the West Coast,” Tom Harries, an offshore wind analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London, told Bloomberg Environment. “Then there’s also some pretty big environmentally protected areas as well.”

Broad swaths of water off the California coast have been designated by the Defense Department as no-build zones for offshore wind farms.

Projects at 24 offshore sites in California are under review by Pentagon leaders, U.S. Navy Southwest Region spokesman Steve Chung told Bloomberg Environment. He declined to disclose companies, saying details are proprietary.

Chung called potential offshore wind farm development in the Diablo Canyon “extremely problematic” for Defense Department operations because it’s in the heart of a sea range where military tests and research occur, including supersonic testing, low-level flights and live-fire training.

The Audubon Society, which supports California’s renewable energy goals, opposes plans for offshore wind farms because birds such as the endangered short-tailed albatross—a large sea bird of with a population of only about 1,200—can collide with the turbines.

The possible risk outweighs the need, and it’s possible to reach clean energy goals while safeguarding wildlife, Anna Weinstein, marine program director for Audubon California, told Bloomberg Environment, pointing to the electricity surpluses the state experiences.

The three spots federal officials have targeted are part of a richly diverse area that attracts a broad number of birds and wildlife.

“We call it the blue Serengeti for a reason,” she said.

Seeking Solutions

The best place to build wind farms in California and ways to reduce conflicts are being studied by a task force composed of federal, state, local, and tribal agencies that was formed in 2016. The turbines off California would be in federal waters.

In addition, the California Coastal Commission, a state agency, has jurisdiction over state waters and coastal zones, but it can review projects in federal areas that could have impacts locally. That includes projects with power cables that may be connected to existing infrastructure on land.

The commission is working with other state agencies and federal officials to ensure leasing plans are consistent with California regulations.

“We’re still so in the initial phases of this that there is no specific issue to say no to, or yes to,” Kate Huckelbridge, a senior environmental scientist with the coastal commission, told Bloomberg Environment.

Bullish on Offshore Wind

Despite the challenges, renewable energy analysts are bullish on the industry’s prospects in California.

Jacobson at Stanford said the offshore wind industry could begin building wind farms earlier than 2025 if permitting issues are overcome.

“The technology is ready today. Any delay in deployment would be due primarily to financing [or] permitting,” Jacobson said. “Any supply chain hurdles should be short-lived.”

The challenges of building wind farms in deep water prove that the Pacific Ocean is no panacea for renewable electricity, but California is in a good position to overcome some of those issues, Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, told Bloomberg Environment.

“The ocean is vast, the population is large, the electricity demand is great, the state is wealthy, and the climate and environmental conscientiousness of its citizens is strong, suggesting a floating future for California,” Firestone said.

 

Floating Wind Farms for California Move a Step Closer to Reality, By Bobby Magill and Emily C. Dooley, Bloomberg BNA, October 26, 2018.