Nation & World

Offshore wind farms coming to California

But the Navy says no to large sections of the coast

Statoil

Floating offshore wind turbines are seen near the coast of Scotland as part of the Hywind project. Offshore wind energy is coming to California, but the military is opposed to placing wind farms in areas that it believes could interfere with training, operations and readiness.
Statoil Floating offshore wind turbines are seen near the coast of Scotland as part of the Hywind project. Offshore wind energy is coming to California, but the military is opposed to placing wind farms in areas that it believes could interfere with training, operations and readiness.
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Fans of renewable energy anticipate a bonanza blowing off the coast of California.

But a map released by the U.S. Navy puts large swathes of the state off limits to future offshore wind farms — including all of San Diego and Los Angeles, extending up to the Central Coast.

The military does not have the final say in the matter. Federal and state officials — as well as wind energy companies and at least one member of Congress — are working with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a more flexible plan.

But the back and forth adds an extra layer of complexity to the nascent industry on the West Coast, where geographic features make it harder to construct wind farms in the Pacific than those on the East Coast.

“There’s a lot at stake here” for California to meet its ambitious clean energy goals, said Robert Collier, a policy analyst at the Green Energy Program at the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

“California is going to need a lot more renewable energy from all sources. Offshore wind is not the only potential solution, but it is part of a multipronged strategy.”

Why offshore wind must float on the West Coast

The sight of wind turbines anchored into the ground, their blades turning like giant pinwheels, has become more common in recent years.

But it’s rare to see a wind farm looming over open water — at least in the United States. European companies with projects in places such as Denmark and Scotland have taken the early lead in offshore wind energy.

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The first commercial offshore wind facility in the United States was launched in December 2016 — the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island — and more are in the works.

In the Atlantic, offshore wind turbines can be bolted into the seabed in relatively shallow water.

But the continental shelf off the coast of the Pacific plunges quickly and steeply. That leaves developers with just one option — floating wind farms tethered, or moored, by cables to the ocean floor that don’t penetrate the surface. Electricity from the turbines is transmitted to a floating substation and carried to a power plant onshore via a buried cable.

It’s estimated that nearly a terawatt of electricity will be generated off the coast of California — 13 times more capacity than all the land-based wind farms across the country generate.

But in the past year, some of the lofty expectations have been tempered.

Two years ago, a Seattle-based company called Trident Winds filed an unsolicited lease request to build a floating wind project 33 nautical miles off the coast of Morro Bay near San Luis Obispo. Since then, Norwegian energy giant Statoil also has expressed interest.

At the request of Gov. Jerry Brown, the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management established an intergovernmental task force to look into opportunities for offshore wind in California.

State waters extend from the shoreline to three nautical miles into the ocean. Federal waters extend from three miles to 200 nautical miles.

Floating offshore wind projects are typically located in federal waters but as the cables connect onshore, they cross state waters. That means state as well as federal agencies are involved.

Resistance from the military

The Department of Defense was asked to provide its assessment of the California coast. Last summer the Navy released a map, using the colors of a traffic light — green for no restrictions, yellow for site-specific stipulations and red for what it called “wind exclusion” where the military wanted no wind farms at all.

Blue areas were coded for sites designated as National Marine Sanctuaries.

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The red “no-go” areas covered all of southern California — from the southern tip of the Mexican border, extending through San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and going all the way to Big Sur. The area included the Central Coast — site of the potential Morro Bay projects.

The only areas colored green were located north of Mendocino.

The Navy said the red areas should be off limits to wind projects because they would conflict with “the requirements of Navy and Marine Corps missions conducted in the air, on the surface, and below the surface of these waters.”

The map was updated in February and became more restricted. All the green areas turned yellow.

Why is all of southern California in the red zone? Steve Chung, the Navy Region Southwest Encroachment program director, pointed to the Point Mugu Sea Range north of Los Angeles and the sprawling southern California Range Complex situated off the coast between Dana Point and San Diego.

The complex encompasses more than 120,000 square miles of sea space for training, equipping and maintaining combat-ready forces, “supporting the largest concentration of naval forces in the world,” Chung said.

The area also is used by the Marine Corps, the Air Force — Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc — and, to a lesser extent, the Army.

“It’s a very congested environment out there,” Chung and, “and we start (by) pointing out other activities such as marine traffic or civilian air traffic. When you begin presenting structures such as wind turbines, now you’re introducing additional complexities.”

When asked if putting wind farms in southern California would be a hard nut to crack, Chung said, “southern California is beyond a hard nut to crack. I don’t see any realistic, conceivable manner where we can find offshore wind to co-exist with the degree and complexity of operations that are occurring in southern California.”

Moving North

The wind blows harder as you move up the California coast and that’s where wind developers have really set their sights.

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It’s also attractive to California policymakers to meet the state’s renewable energy goals. The state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard requires power companies to derive 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Renewables have a problem with “intermittency” — solar energy dips when the sun doesn’t shine and land-based wind falls off when the wind doesn’t blow.

Offshore wind blows harder and more consistently, which, its supporters say, will help balance the state’s grid while allowing for more integration of clean energy sources.

A small community power authority in Humboldt County is in position to become the first to establish a floating wind farm in the country.

“We’re excited,” said Lori Biondini, the director of business development and planning at the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, a community choice aggregator. “We like to be pioneers of things in the energy world.”

Last month, the group formed a consortium to erect a 100 to 150-megawatt wind farm of between 12 to 15 turbines more than 20 miles off the coast of Eureka. The turbines, Biondini said, will be 700 to 900 feet tall. The project is expected to go online in 2024 or 2025.

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