June 15, 2022 By Ramona du Houx Imagine a future where offshore floating turbines are off the Californian coast and all fossil fuel rigs are gone. The transition is on the way. On May 26, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its proposed sale notice (PSN) for wind energy area zones in California. The state’s potential is staggering. […]
Imagine a future where offshore floating turbines are off the Californian coast and all fossil fuel rigs are gone. The transition is on the way. On May 26, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its proposed sale notice (PSN) for wind energy area zones in California. The state’s potential is staggering. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, (NWEL), California has up to 200GW of offshore wind that could be tapped into. Yet state law, AB 525, only requires at least 3G commitments of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and up to 20GW by 2050.
Gasoline and other fossil-fuel based energy costs are at all-time highs. Prices on goods have skyrocketed, in large part, because the transportation of getting the goods to market relies on fossil fuels. Simultaneously, heat waves, drought and fires plague CA. We face dual crises of rising energy prices along with a cascade of climate impacts due to continued fossil fuel emissions.
The good news is that California’s independence from gas for electricity could be accelerated with offshore wind power and other renewable sources.
A report by Environment California Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group,Offshore Wind for America, stated California could provide 157% of 2019 electricity usage with offshore wind alone.
California’s offshore wind developments will be the first American offshore wind farms with floating turbines. This cutting edge technology has been providing power for Scotland since 2017, and is being deployed rapidly around the globe. Deep water wind is stronger and consistent, unlike land-based wind. At night the winds have even more force, representing opportunities to feed the grid after the sun sets.
“Elected Officials to Protect America encourages the responsible development of offshore wind. It can help California reach its goal of carbon free energy by 2045, and create good-paying, union jobs, while bringing investments to coastal communities. The Californian coast is ideal for these deep water powerhouses that will advance a clean energy economy that protects the coasts, fisheries, marine life, and Tribal and cultural resources while combating the climate crisis,” said Christian Brock, CEO of Elected Official to Protect America, Air Force Veteran, CA. “With offshore wind and other clean energy resources feeding the electrical grid California, and the nation, will be more secure. With offshore wind potential being realized, EOPA-CA asks Governor Newsom to end all fossil fuel permitting. California is on a clean energy economy trajectory — we can’t afford to go backwards.”
A new in-depth modeling from energy analysis firms GridLab and Telos Energy indicates that California can reliably increase its annual share of carbon-free electricity from about 55 percent today to 85 percent by 2030. California’s most recent procurement goals are roughly on target to reach a similar level of year-round clean energy with solar, wind farms and batteries by 2032, along with gigawatts from offshore wind farms, pumped-hydro storage facilities and geothermal power plants. That means the state could retire roughly one-third of the gas power plants it had been expecting to still be online in 2030, beyond those already set to retire over the next few years, while maintaining a level of reliability that could minimize the risk of rolling blackouts like those experienced in the summer of 2020.
A companion policy report from think tank Energy Innovation calls for increasing the amount of offshore wind power to provide energy in the evenings when California’s grid faces the greatest stress, as well as adding more geothermal power plants that can run around the clock to provide valuable grid stability.
“Offshore wind holds incredible promise as a means to help tackle the climate crisis while also creating economic opportunity, and Morro Bay is uniquely poised to reap the benefits,” said Dr. John Headding, Mayor, Morro Bay. “These floating offshore wind platforms will be distant objects on the horizon generating power day and night, easing our transition off of dangerous fossil fuels.”
The Morro Bay wind energy area (WEA) developments would be 20 miles off San Luis Obispo County, and indistinguishable on the horizon. The lease areas within the Morro Bay WEA would have a combined 3GW of capacity. Humboldt’s WEA represents a 1.5GW development.
“The combined these lease areas will generate 4,5GW and power 1.6 million homes. With offshore wind offshore drilling could become obsolete and the state’s reliance on gas for electricity would diminish dramatically,” said Heidi Harmon, Former Mayor San Luis Obispo, Senior Public Affairs Director of the Romero Institute’s Let’s Green CA, EOPA California Leadership Council. “Our children should not have to worry about heat waves, droughts and fires caused by our overconsumption of fossil fuels. With offshore wind becoming a reality Governor Newsom should stop issuing any more fossil fuel permits. We must move forward and move away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.”
Making sure the project is done with oversight is a priority.
“I believe the Central Coast is ready, and well-poised, to contribute to solving California’s energy crisis and be a major contributor to green energy goals that will slow the effects of climate change. There is an important role for offshore wind energy to play in this transition,” said Dawn Addism Morro Bay Councilmember. “I am excited to see state and federal agencies, the California Legislature, local governments, non-profits, and industry come together to focus on moving offshore wind energy forward. It’s time to bring real solutions to life and we are taking the first steps towards doing that.”
The BOEM California Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force is made up of members of state, local and federally recognized tribal governments and federal agencies. Sam Cohen represents the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The Proposed Sale Notice (PNS) provides another opportunity for local communities, Tribes, ocean users, developers and others to weigh in on potential wind energy activities offshore California. As of May 31, 2022, there is a 60-day public comment period.
The PSN includes requirements for stakeholder engagement with Tribes, underserved communities, and ocean users such as commercial and recreational fishers, among others, to minimize any adverse impacts of project development. The PSN has a 20 percent credit to bidders who commit to invest in offshore wind workforce or supply chain development, and for commercial fisheries has a proposed 2.5 percent credit to bidders who execute a community benefit agreement with ocean users.
To date, BOEM has held 10 competitive lease sales and has issued 25 active commercial offshore wind leases in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to North Carolina.
BOEM and NREL will continue to evaluate other offshore areas to grow the United States’ offshore wind energy sources, including other locations along the West Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.
The danger of offshore drilling remains ever-present—
Oil rig on the left could be replaced eventually with offshore wind turbines. The difference is a wind spill never hurt anyone. Oil on the other hand is a constant, clear and present danger.
According to the California State Lands Commission, there are 11 actively producing offshore oil and gas leases in state waters, which are what remain of the more than 60 originally issued. These leases were issued prior to the catastrophic 1969 oil spill from Platform A in federal waters off Santa Barbara County.
“We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and wind energy is a smart and powerful tool to get there. Here on the Central Coast, we know the devastating impacts of oil spills from offshore drilling, including just a few years ago at Refugio State Beach,” said Andy Pease, San Luis Obispo, Councilmember. “The loss to habitat, as well as impacts to business and the community, is heart-breaking. With responsible offshore wind it makes no sense to issue new fossil fuel permits. For California to lead in the clean energy economy we must lead by example.”
In the last six years, the Commission has facilitated the termination of 10 offshore oil and gas leases, returning over 20,000 acres to the Coastal Sanctuary. Still drilling continues. The secretary of the Interior Department will decide this month: to continue our reliance on dirty offshore oil and include oil and gas lease sales in the next five-year program—or not. New offshore leasing would have zero impact on current gasoline prices since new leasing doesn’t result in oil supply hitting the market for five or more years. The fossil fuel industry is already sitting on leases that could produce oil and gas at current levels for a decade.
On June 5, a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court decision that prohibits offshore fracking in federal waters off the California coast. But drilling continues. The California Council on Science and Technology has identified some common fracking chemicals to be among the most toxic in the world to marine animals. At least 10 of them routinely are used in offshore fracking according to scientists from the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Too many communities in our state are suffering from toxic pollutants from fossil fuel emissions and bear witness to residents dying prematurely. Almost all the children in these communities, which are mainly communities of color, have asthma and never know what it’s like growing up breathing clean air. It’s unconscionable in a state that is the fifth largest economy in the world. It must stop,” said Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County Supervisor, EOPA California Leadership Council. “With offshore wind coming online and other renewable sources we can accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy. That’s why I’m asking Governor Newsom to stop issuing any new fossil fuel permits now.”
As of January 2022, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported that Governor Newsom has approved 10,212 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019. To his credit, Newsom has listened to communities and advocates about fracking and issued its ban as of 2024. His regulators have begun denying fracking permits, and fracking permits fell 90 percent over last year. He took this major step, now he can stop oil and gas permitting.
Modeling released last year by the research firm Energy Innovation found that cutting U.S. emissions in half by decade’s end — which scientists say is needed to avoid truly catastrophic warming — would grow the economy by $570 billion annually by 2030, and avoid 45,000 premature deaths in the US through reduced air pollution.