Offshore Wind Moves Forward on California Coast
Progress continues on the controversial proposal to install a multi-billion dollar wind farm off the California coast. The five project areas will provide future power needs equivalent to the electricity produced by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which was on schedule to be retired until this past legislative session. On November 21, PG&E received a federal grant of $1.1 billion to keep it operating for another five years.
Progress continues on the controversial proposal to install a multi-billion dollar wind farm off the California coast. The five project areas will provide future power needs equivalent to the electricity produced by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which was on schedule to be retired until this past legislative session. On November 21, PG&E received a federal grant of $1.1 billion to keep it operating for another five years. California’s deep waters, 3,000 feet, are three times as deep as any floating wind turbines have been launched. Forging into the unknown presents a number of concerns and promises that engineers, officials and citizens are weighing out. Leases to Outer Continental Land, needed to locate as many as 1,300 mega-sized wind turbines, will be auctioned off December 6. The process for building 2-5 GigaWatt offshore wind projects, producing more electricity than Diablo Canyon, gets underway with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s lease sale auction starting at 7 a.m. Pacific. They will warm up with a practice auction the day before. The auction could take two days to reach a conclusion and settle on five winning bidders. The lease sale includes three Morro Bay areas, (80,062 acres, 80,418 acres, 80,418 acres), and two Humboldt areas, (673,338 acres and 69,031 acres) totaling 373,268 acres of the Outer Continental Shelf, 20-30 miles offshore. Forty-three bidders have qualified and ponied up the $5 million bid deposit to participate. Bidding credits Bids will be considered not only on amount of money, but also on how they propose to use the bidding credits. Bidders can qualify for up to 20 percent credit by committing to investing in workforce training and supply chain development. They can also get up to five percent credit for a Lease Area Use Community Benefit Agreement and five percent for a General Community Benefit Agreement. CBAs are intended to mitigate potential impacts on- and offshore to communities, tribal, or other stakeholder groups and may assist fishing and related industries by supporting their resilience and ability to adapt to impacts that may arise from the development of the lease area. A Lease Area Use CBA would be between the lessee and a community or stakeholder group “whose use of the geographic space of the Lease Area, or whose use of resources harvested from that geographic space, is directly impacted by the Lessee’s potential offshore wind development. ”The General CBA would be with communities, tribes, or stakeholder groups that are expected to be affected by the potential impacts on the marine, coastal, and/or human environment from activities resulting from lease development that are not otherwise addressed by the Lease Area Use CBA. Eric Endersby, Morro Bay’s harbor director, sees how those credits can help the waterfront. “We are the closest port to the Morro Bay area, and we are a protected port, so it makes sense for the operations and maintenance boats to be coming and going out of Morro Bay,” he said in an interview. “There would be a lot of fuel sales, a lot of high-dollar, high-skilled jobs. The cable is coming into Morro Bay, through the grid system, so there’ll be that aspect to it. We see a revitalization of our working waterfront.” Other ocean users The leases require consideration of other users, from commercial fishing and Department of Defense national security to vessel speed requirements, use of low-energy geophysical survey equipment and coordinating with the Coastal Commission on plan submissions. Bidders know that BOEM has no authority to issue leases in national marine sanctuaries. The Morro Bay wind areas are adjacent to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the proposed Chumash Heritage NMS. Violet Sage Walker, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, wrote in an op-ed in The Tribune, “The Northern Chumash Tribal Council advocates for marine conservation, equitable mitigation measures and fair community benefits. We believe offshore wind must coexist and cooperate with marine protections, and we see this as a unique opportunity for a collaborative effort, not a combative one.” Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California, said at the Floating Wind USA 2022 conference in San Francisco, that the ocean is the last place his people have to pray. “We can’t go any further west,” he said. “What will our descendants see? Another colonial resource or a collaborative partner?” Lines on a map are abstractions that are irrelevant to fisheries and tribal lands. Full details are in the Final Sale Notice National and state goals The West Coast Floating Offshore Wind projects, with a goal of 4.5 GW of power by 2030, are part of the Biden administration’s goal for Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, a commitment to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025.The state of California has set a target of 2-5 GW of offshore wind power by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045. Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant’s two units combined produce 2.2 GW. Although intended to be retired in 2024 and 2025, in 2022 the legislature extended the plant’s licenses five years. New port terminals needed Ten additional port terminals along California’s coast will be required to support the projects. None of California’s current ports is large enough or strong enough to support the wind turbine staging and fabrication. Terminals may be located in existing ports such as Long Beach and San Francisco, but construction of entirely new ports may be required. Building the turbines Turbines are 1,100 feet tall on a base 425 feet wide. About 1,300 are projected to be installed in the West Coast projects. The size of the turbines presents problems yet unsolved, including moving the assembled turbines from the manufacturing facility into the water. It could take two weeks or longer to tow them out to the site where they will be tethered. The size and complications of constructing the turbines and setting them in place presents risks that are difficult to evaluate and insure. “What keeps me up at night is a project that is uninsurable,” one insurance executive said. Deeper waters, bigger ships Hanson Wood, regional senior vice president for development in the West Region, EDF Renewables, said that although technical lessons have been learned from projects in Asia, there is no precedent for a wind project in California’s depths, around 3,000 feet. The chains tethering the turbines to sea floor anchors could put marine mammals at risk by catching drifting fishing gear and ensnaring them. The area is known as the Blue Serengeti for its migration routes of whales and seals. A ship large enough to transport the turbine parts, in compliance with U.S. Jones Law, is under construction in Texas. The 472-foot-long Charybdis is estimated to cost around $500 million. Humboldt has already received a grant for $10.5 million to renovate its facilities into the Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind Heavy Lift Marine Terminal, which will be capable of handling large heavy cargo vessels, offshore wind floating platform development and integration and decommissioning, and other maritime activities. Developing the Central Coast wind area could create around 15,000 new jobs, according to a report on the economic impact by REACH Central Coast and Cal Poly. Environmental impacts Environmental impacts such as the loss of wind energy that drives the ocean upwelling which is the central feature of ocean ecology in the area remain to be evaluated in the future. The amount of money involved is staggering, hundreds of billions of dollars, so those credits – 20 percent for workforce and supply chain, and five percent each for offshore and onshore impacts – will represent large amounts of money to communities like Morro Bay and Humboldt. It’s not without significant risk, though. In mid-November, Shell, with partners China General Nuclear Power Group and France’s Caisse des dépôts et consignations (CDC) canceled a demonstration floating wind project offshore France. Shell’s statement cited ”technical, commercial and financial challenges” in the execution of the project as the main reasons for the decision to cancel the EUR 300 million, 28.5 MW Groix & Belle-Île pilot wind farm, Le Parisien reports.“ The economic conditions linked to the project have been significantly modified, calling into question, for all the partners of the consortium, the economic viability of the project,” Shell was quoted as saying in a statement. State regulators Representatives of California’s State Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission attended the San Francisco conference, supporting the projects. Governor Gavin Newsom is committed to floating offshore wind and the regulatory agencies are on board. All projects will be subjected to California's notoriously contentious permitting process, but the pressure is on to get turbines in the water by 2030. With the workforce development required – it will take as long as two years to train welders to the skill level needed – new port terminals to be constructed, and techniques for anchoring the turbines in such deep water refined, sussing out the risks of screwing it up is needed. Yurok Vice Chair Myers said, “The path to messing it up is just so wide. ”While the powers behind the idea and the money are moving forward, those communities that will be most affected are watching from the sidelines. “I’m afraid that it will be just such a bright, shiny object that it will distract us from the changes we need to make,” one conference participant said privately. The question of whether this provides the solution California needs for its future power requirements, or if expenses and technical problems overwhelm it remains to be seen. We will keep you posted.