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2021 West Coast Wind Update

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John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Jul 6, 2021

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I was not totally surprised when I heard that the current administration was opening up two new areas for California to build offshore wind farms. The signals have been there that the state wanted to do this for several years, and a few of these projects are in the early planning stage.

The new administration is taking a positive approach to permitting offshore wind projects. President Biden’s VP, Ms. Harris is a former Senator (etc.) from California, so opening our state’s waters was just a matter of time.

This post will describe the latest news on political and other progress on the West Coast Projects.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 6, 2021

For so long we heard that the military base issues on the West Coast were basically a non-starter, but it sounds like that tune has changed. Is that simply a matter of leadership changing, one that used the military bases as an excuse and another that sees that it's not a complete full stop on wind-- or has the technology advanced in a way that makes the previous issues less of a concern today? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 6, 2021

It's never been a full stop on wind, Matt. The problem is wind developers are anxious to get access two Diablo Canyon's 500 kV lines, specifically designed to carry nuclear electricity to California's transmission backbone. Wind turbines directly off the coast from Diablo Canyon would (and still may) interfere with radar at Vandenberg Air Force Base scanning for incoming missile attacks from North Korea.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jul 7, 2021

Since North Korea or no other country in fact has cruise missiles with a range of 6,000 km,any attack from North Korea would be a ballistic missile which would cross the coast at 4-5km altitude. How a 250m tall wind turbine 20km out to sea would interfere with that radar image is just a bit hard to understand.

As modern radars like the Aegis can simultaneously track 1,000 targets as small as a baseball, It is hardly likely that a fiberglass windturbine blade with zero velocity toward the target is going to confuse the radar

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 7, 2021

"...any attack from North Korea would be a ballistic missile which would cross the coast at 4-5km altitude"

Needless to say, an incoming missile would have to be tracked long before it crossed the coast to have any chance of intercepting it.

Aegis is a line-of-sight radar system that's useless for tracking intercontinental ballistic missiles. Last year a North Korean missile reached an apogee of 2,800 miles traveling at a speed of over 4 miles/sec. It was tracked by an over the horizon (OTH) radar system scanning close to the horizon to enable detection as soon as possible after launch. So yes, with these systems offshore wind turbines do get in the way.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jul 11, 2021

I looked up the webinar you referenced, nothing about OTH radar, all about air defence and near shore navigation. A number of mitigation methods proposed as far back as 2012. i.e. easily solved problem.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 12, 2021

You missed it. At my link:

"Relocatable Over-The-Horizon-Radar R&D

BriefingThis webinar featured a briefing from Mr. Larry Nelson, Director Relocatable Over-The-Horizon-Radar (ROTHR) at the Forces Surveillance Support Center (FSSC). His briefing included an overview of the ROTHR mission, specific wind turbine radar interference issues associated with the radars, and potential mitigation options. 

The presentation slides are available for download."

In my state, the mitigation option is "permanently closing California's largest source of green energy, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, and relocating critical elements of U.S. strategic defense infrastructure, including its security, energy, and communications support, to avoid interference from an intermittent, unreliable, meager source of energy advanced by private interests. Aka, putting US security and climate at risk to make rich 'green' investors richer."

Bad idea, no?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 6, 2021

"The new administration is taking a positive approach to permitting offshore wind projects."

That depends whether you consider replacing zero-carbon, baseload power from Diablo Canyon with a combination of imported coal-fired power and offshore wind, when it's available, a positive step.

Biden seems to believe, without evidence, that offshore wind can reduce carbon emissions in the U.S., and will have a negligible environmental impact. In Virginia, Dominion has set up a test facility with two turbines - but instead of waiting for the results, $billions of dollars have already been spent in preparation for what many believe will be a handout to renewables and natural gas interests, and will result in a net positive increase in carbon emissions.

I don't think that's a positive - especially, because California's Public Utilities Commission has different priorities than the administration. Their latest Integrated Resource Plan seeks to replace Diablo Canyon and several California natural gas plants with 5-6 gigawatts of electricity from imported sources of "unspecified" provenance - aka, coal-fired electricity from Wyoming:

"Contracted imported power may be used to count toward the capacity requirements in this order if the imports otherwise meet the requirements for firm imports in the resource adequacy program, are available during the duration of the time period for this order (2023-2026), and are contracted with new resources or represent capacity expansions to existing resources that have commercial online dates after the date of this decision. "

making offshore windfarms in California little more than coal plants with pretty, spinning blades.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Jul 7, 2021

Many years ago, My wife & I honeymooned at Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast. We also periodically visited there periodically for about the next decade. Occasionally a flight of military fighters would blast by a mile or two offshore. 

Also, I've known for many years that the military has many facilities along the California coast. However, the military also understands that climate change presents major threats to their operations (everywhere). My sometimes employer (Microgrid Labs)  has helped implement large microgrids on two bases in Central / Northern California, both reasonably close to the coast.  So they, in general, support the deployment of renewables, and are apparently piloting a small offshore wind installation to help power Vandenberg (see Section 4 in this post). I believe they also have quite a bit of PV there.

Given Biden's strong record of supporting the military, I believe his administration did reasonable due diligence to verify that the two Call Areas moved forward and any future Wind Farms would not cause any significant disruptions to military operations.

Also note that the decision was made to "take the Diablo Canyon Call Area completely off the table."


John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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