San Luis Obispo County could see wind turbines floating off its coast in less than a decade if all goes according to plan, federal officials said this week.
Members of the United States Congress held an on-the-ground hearing at the Morro Bay Community Center on Thursday to highlight and discuss the work being done to get offshore wind turbines floating in the Pacific Ocean.
The Energy and Mineral Resources Sub-Committee of the Natural Resources Committee focused primarily on the proposed development off the coast of San Luis Obispo County, about 20 miles west of San Simeon and Cambria.
The so-called Morro Bay Wind Power Area is expected to generate 2.9 gigawatts of electricity at peak capacity if fully built.
The subcommittee also discussed a smaller but similar 1.6 gigawatt power development proposed offshore Humboldt Bay.
In attendance were U.S. Representatives Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley), Connie Conway (R-Tulare), and Pete Stauber (R-Duluth, Minnesota). The subcommittee received testimony and posed questions to 14 witnesses divided into four panels.
Panelists included representatives from the United States Office of Ocean Energy Management, USA Department of Defense, California Energy Commission, California State Assembly, San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, and Port of Long Beach.
Additionally, representatives from the offshore wind industry, tribes, economics, fisheries, local businesses, and unions served on the panels.
Doug Boren, BOEM Pacific Regional Directorwho spoke at the first panel and said the federal government was on track to hold a lease auction this fall.
“The goal is … to have these projects in the water by 2030,” Boren said of the proposed wind turbine development projects.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham told the hearing he was concerned about getting the turbines up the water so quickly, especially with the state’s goal of having 25 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity d 2045.
He noted that Senate Bill 846, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, created a streamlined licensing process to allow the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to continue operating beyond its date. closure scheduled for 2025.
“I think the same approach could be used to generate renewable energy assets,” Cunningham said. “It’s an emergency, we need a reliable network. We need to decarbonize (and) achieve our goals.
During the hearing, lawmakers asked if San Luis Obispo County’s existing infrastructure could handle such offshore wind energy development.
Matthew Arms, director of environmental planning at the Port of Long Beach, said he is “looking closely at how the port can support offshore wind development.”
This could displace some or most offshore wind energy development activities – from building the turbines to receiving parts, maintenance activities, dispatching labor and more – from San Luis Obispo County to Los Angeles County.
Such a shift could hurt the economic potential provided by offshore wind power development, which local economic research group REACH said in a 2021 study could generate $262 million for the Central Coast.
Josh Boswell, REACH’s vice president of policy and economic development, told the hearing that his organization was working on a feasibility study to help determine if the Central Coast could support offshore wind energy development. This study should be published in the coming months, he said.
“The infrastructure options here look even more promising,” Boswell told lawmakers during the hearing.
Boswell added that “proximity matters” from a port to offshore wind energy development.
A port closer to offshore wind power development could mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions from shipping parts and workers, as well as less time in the water for large ships and others benefits, he said.
This infrastructure issue can be boiled down to a “grid” approach, Boswell noted, where several ports on the central coast provide some aspects of offshore wind power development.
During the hearing, Jeremiah O’Brien, vice president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, said he was concerned about how the proposed development could potentially harm the fishing industry. the Peach.
“Mitigation is a desperate tool for existence and survival in the near future and the construction of these facilities will cause permanent damage to the commercial fishing industry on the coast,” O’Brien said. “There is no amount of money that will save (our) eventual destruction.”
Kourtney Vaccaro, senior offshore wind commissioner for the California Energy Commission, said her agency suggested BOEM increase some financial incentives for commercial wind energy developers to encourage engagement and mitigation. from the community.
The Energy Commission recommended that BOEM offer the winner a credit of up to 50% of the final auction price if they demonstrate certain commitments, including the creation and implementation of agreements communities that benefit businesses and ocean users impacted by offshore. development of wind energy.
“This recommendation reflects (…) the scale of investment needed to establish a new industry in a way that minimizes impacts, maximizes benefits and results in the generation of renewable energy (which) provides affordable energy to our taxpayers and ensures a fair return to the United States,” Vaccaro said during Thursday’s hearing.
The hearing lasted nearly four hours Thursday without any opportunity for public comment.
BOEM is still conducting an environmental assessment analyzing the potential impacts the site surveys could have on the Morro Bay wind energy area.
This must be completed before a final sale notice is issued outlining how the lease sale will be conducted and subsequent requirements for the turbine companies.
To date, BOEM has held 10 competitive lease sales and issued 25 active commercial wind leases in the Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts to North Carolina.
Morro Bay and Humboldt lease sales will be the first in the Pacific region.