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The race for offshore space on the West Coast begins

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent, Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 785 items added with 390,139 views
  • Jun 10, 2022

Nearly 400,000 acres off the shores of central and northern California will soon be awarded to a handful of developers who will lead the U.S.'s first steps into offshore wind energy on the west coast. 

Over the last few years, the U.S. has ramped up its efforts to cut into Europe's offshore wind dominance. The federal government has awarded 25 leases along the east coast of the U.S. between Massachusetts and North Carolina, and now the sights turn to the west coast, where the potential is significant but the logistics are hairier. 

Unlike the offshore Atlantic, the offshore Pacific is much deeper and offshore wind on the west coast will require floating wind turbines, a technology that has picked up in recent years, especially in Europe. If more of California's shores open up for wind projects and domestic market demand increases, the nascent industry of floating wind turbines could be a sector where the U.S. could lead in innovation, having a double impact of enhancing renewable energy generating capacity and creating a new sector of the manufacturing and R&D economy. 

On May 31st, the public comment period began for lease structures proposed by the federal government's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a relatively new agency formed in 2011. Included in the lease structures are options for the developers to mitigate the impacts of offshore wind turbines on tribes, the marine ecosystem and the fishing industry.

The BOEM outlines some options, such as a 2.5% bidding credit to bidders who have executed or commit to executing a community benefit with local ocean users, such as the fishing industry; a 20% bidding credit to bidders who invest in offshore wind development training and supply chain; a requirement for lessees to engage with local tribes and ocean users and document/report their engagement to the government, as well as make an effort to build projects that are going to have minimized impact on the local communities. 

These stipulations and other structures to the leases are all available to comment on until Aug. 1 

The Pacific Ocean off the U.S. west coast has been viewed as a more sensitive environment with greater logistical issues because of its depth. The development of floating wind turbines is what makes offshore wind there possible. Climate change has continued to demand creativity and flexibility. Nowhere is this more obvious than along California's central coast. The new leader of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most protected areas of water in the U.S., said her team is even looking into ways to bring offshore wind to the otherwise undisturbed section of the Pacific, stating that climate change and fossil fuels posed a great enough threat that it was the sanctuary's responsibility to at least consider how it could participate in generating more renewable capacity. 

However, floating wind turbines on Monterey Bay are likely very far away. For now, the industry's eyes are focused on what kind of bids are accepted for the west coast's first batch of wind farms. When built out, the area up for lease could generate more than 4.5 gigawatts of energy and power 1.5 million homes. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 10, 2022

A lot of this movement seems to have come thanks to having Biden in the White House. If the next Administration is not as friendly to wind energy, will any of the progress be undone or is it more that new opportunities will then become stalled? 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jun 20, 2022

Having made electricity in California over twice as expensive as the rest of the country, let’s see if we can make it 4 times as expensive!
By all means, let’s thank Biden and the Democratic Party. With luck, they will further impoverish Americans by the mindless pursuit of green energy.

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