Ocean Protection, Ocean Energy, Updates, Climate Change
September 05 2019

Offshore Wind Energy Projects Advance Along California’s Coast

by Jennifer Savage

If proponents are successful, clusters of offshore wind turbines will dot the waters off California’s coast in the near future. In order to ensure any offshore renewable energy projects move forward with the utmost care for the ocean environment, Surfrider staff have participated in planning and development processes for the past several years. After a quiet couple months, August brought a number of opportunities to engage on proposed projects in both state and federal waters.

Ideol Project Offshore Vandenberg Air Force Base

Development of offshore wind energy has long been a struggle for California. Areas with strong and consistent winds, like Northern California, lack the infrastructure to distribute energy to the rest of the state, and areas with sufficient infrastructure, like Southern California, lack the necessary winds. Meanwhile, areas in the Central Coast provides the right mix of wind and infrastructure but the Department of Defense (DOD) essentially declared the Central Coast off limits to offshore renewables due to the proximity of Vandenberg Air Force Base and military training sites. 

That changed recently when Ideol, a French offshore wind energy developer, surprised the stakeholders and environmental advocates by applying for a lease through California’s State Lands Commission (SLC) to do wind-speed testing in state waters off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Developers  hope to ultimately generate wind energy to power the base’s operations. Although representatives of Ideol had reached out to NGOs – including Surfrider – in 2018, the project discussed at the time differed from what appeared on the SLC agenda. Lacking current outreach from the company or the state, Surfrider joined with Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity and the California Coastal Protection Network to ask for a continuance of the lease application until the SLC’s next meeting in October. 

Surfrider and other NGO partners have advocated for a science-driven siting process for offshore wind. By first looking at the entire coast to identify ecologically-sensitive areas to avoid, the state can site offshore wind projects in a way that minimizes local impacts, and developments can proceed smoothly. Surfrider has also emphasized the importance of identifying and filling data gaps before utility scale offshore wind development occurs. While a data collection buoy could produce valuable information, the lack of notice to a community heavily vested in ocean stewardship – the project area is adjacent to both the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve and the Point Conception State Marine Reserve – diminished what trust may have been established. It also raised concerns about the state’s commitment to thoughtfully siting offshore wind. 

Additionally, of the 40 square miles included in the lease, 11 are located within mapped critical habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. While protections would be put in place as part of the lease approval, the lack of time to review lease components worried ocean experts. If the state is to permit a data collection buoy with the goal of moving toward a pilot project, the data should be public and include environmental data collection. With more time, we’ll be better able to refine any comments and requests related to the data collection buoy project and how this step may lead to subsequent construction and operations of what would be the first floating offshore wind electrical generation pilot project in California.

Due to calls for a more inclusive and robust public process, SLC staff and Ideol representatives have contacted Surfrider and other NGO staff to work together toward ensuring all stakeholders have adequate opportunity to weigh in.

For more background on Surfrider’s engagement in renewable ocean energy, including this project, please see our position statement and Beachapedia article.

E3 study on the value of offshore wind to California

An industry-commissioned study released on August 8, 2019, determined that offshore wind energy produced by floating turbines could provide plenty of potential value to California, including up to $2 billion in cost savings to rate payers by 2040. The study’s authors assert the state will need between seven and nine gigawatts of offshore wind to meet its clean energy and climate goals by 2040. 

EDP Renewables: Humboldt County Project

As DOD use conflicts have stalled offshore wind projects along the Central Coast, interest in California’s North Coast waters ramped up despite the lack of infrastructure. The Eureka-based Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is the area agency tasked with developing local renewable resources in a way that most benefits the local community. The agency envisions a pilot project of 10-to-15 wind turbines sited about 25 miles offshore. In September 2018, along with a consortium of private companies consisting of Principle PowerEDPR Offshore North America LLC, and Aker Solutions Inc., submitted a lease application to BOEM to advance the development of the project off Humboldt County’s coast.

In April 2019, Surfrider’s California Policy Manager Jennifer Savage (yours truly) participated in a forum convened by state Senator Mike McGuire focused on offshore wind energy development. In the ensuing months, RCEA and its partners have worked to address the concerns that arose during that meeting and will hold a public stakeholder meeting to discuss the Redwood Coast Offshore Wind project on Wednesday, September 25 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Further details on the meeting are forthcoming – check the agency’s website for updates. 

Background 

California has some of the most ambitious clean energy and climate goals in the world thanks to then-Governor Jerry Brown’s 2005 Executive Order S-03-05 and the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act jointly requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to:

  • 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 
  • 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050

Additionally, SB 100, which passed last year, increased California’s targets to:

  • 60 percent renewable energy by 2030
  • 100 percent by 2045

Offshore wind energy timeline

  • 2016: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and California Energy Commission (CEC) establish a task force to explore offshore wind as a potential source of renewable energy.
  • 2018: The task force issues a call for information and nominations to assess the wind industry's interest in three areas along the coast: Morro Bay, Diablo Canyon and Humboldt; 14 companies express interest.
  • 2020: BOEM expects to begin offshore wind lease sales.
  • 2024: Construction in approved areas anticipated to be underway.

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