California bets big on offshore wind power

Floating wind turbines and two boats

Floating wind turbines, like these in Scotland, are controversial, but they are probably a necessary part of moving away from fossil fuels.
Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Staff (Getty Images)

The wind is picking up on the west coast. California plans to produce 10 to 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2045, enough to power between 10 million and 15 million householdsaccording to a report by the State Energy Commission released Friday. The goal is the biggest of any state so far, surpassing New York’s 9 gigawatts by 2035 promise.

California SB 100, signed into law in 2018, requires the state to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045, and offshore wind is part of the plan to succeed. Additionally, nationally, the The Biden administration has set a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. California’s draft plan includes a preliminary goal of 3 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030—ten% of the federal objective.

For context, California’s 3,437 miles of coastline is roughly 3% of total US coastline mileage (representing all states, territories, islands and the Great Lakes coast). gdeclaimed, all this is not suitable for offshore wind turbines. And in 2021, the entire US energy grid, including small-scale solar, had a production capacity of about 1,170 gigawatts.

These first 3 gigawatts of Wis CMost of the wind energy would come from a “complete construction of the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (WEA) or a combination of partial construction of the Morro Bay WEA and the Humboldt WEA” , says the report.

Last year, the Biden administration opened these two Californian sites (one in Morro Bay, the other off Humboldt further north) to offshore wind power, and specifically to floating wind turbines.

Typically, offshore wind farms are located in areas shallow enough to attach the turbines directly to the ocean floor with concrete or steel pylons. However, floating wind farms are a relatively new technology that allows turbines to be tethered with cables in deeper water areas.

The first floating wind farm started generating power in 2017 off the coast of Scotland. As of 2021, only two more operational floating farms have appeared: yearthere in Scotland and one off from Portugal. More conventional offshore wind however, took off in Europe over the past decades.

But virtually everywhere offshore wind and floating farms have been proposed or built in the United States, they have faced big backlash. In Maine, lobster fishermen were concerned about the carries a long power cable would affect their ability to fish, although a transition to clean energy production is likely necessary to maintain viable lobster populations. On Long Island, very wealthy Hamptons landowners lobbied against a offshore wind farmciting unfounded fears of “violent energy releasesand “electromagnetic fields”.

Last September, a group of commercial fishermen prosecuted the Home Office for failing to take their concerns sufficiently into account when approving a 62-turbine project near Martha’s Vineyard.

More recently, in California, many stakeholders, including members of the Northern Chumash tribe, criticized and fought a private proposal to float eight wind turbines within the boundaries of what could become a tribal marine sanctuary. Much of the opposition comes down to the specifics of sensitive location, the lack of existing wind data environmental impacts of farms in similar locations, and companies involved, that are not members of the responsible development group Offshore Wind California, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times.

As valid As this is all about assessing and considering the offshore wind industry and environmental impacts (as we should with all major infrastructure), it is important to keep in mind that tthere alternative to the expansion of these energy projects is to keep burning fossil fuels. We have lots of data irrefutably demonstrating the harm that the status quo of oil, gas and coal is causing both people and natural environments. If we really want to make sure the oceans are protectedwe need as many renewable gigawatts as possible.

Either way, California’s new draft the targets are likely to spark further controversy, but for now they are non-binding and preliminary. A finalized announcement of the plan is expected May 24.

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