California’s Energy Commission has released a draft report outlining what some are calling “aggressive” goals for offshore wind power development in the Pacific Ocean — and Morro Bay is likely to play a key role in helping the state meet its goals.
The draft report, which was posted to the CEC’s Online Offshore Renewable Energy Minutes Monday, was required under Assembly Bill 525.
This bill requires the state agency to determine by June 1 the maximum feasible capacity for floating wind turbines off the coast of California in federal waters.
But the CEC staff report does not do this; It notes that work is ongoing to identify additional areas of the ocean that would be suitable for offshore wind power development. Therefore, the maximum feasible capacity is impossible to calculate, the employees wrote.
Nevertheless, the draft report of the KEK defines three goals.
By 2030, the state wants to install 3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity in the Pacific Ocean.
It also wants between 10 and 15 gigawatts of capacity by 2045 and potentially up to 20 gigawatts between 2045 and 2050.
The CEC staff report says other studies have found that 21.5 gigawatts of offshore wind power is the limit of “technically feasible capacity”. According to agency spokesman Mike Ward, the state is still working to determine its own maximum feasible capacity and will include it in a future report.
The three targets vary slightly from the original targets outlined in the very first version of AB 525, which were 3 gigawatts by 2030 and at least 10 gigawatts by 2040. However, that bill was revised, which eventually gave the CEC discretion over the amount of offshore wind energy it would plan for.
California Energy Commission offshore wind targets commended
Rep. Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), one of the politicians who wrote AB 525, praised the targets in a statement sent to The Tribune on Monday.
“The CEC’s aggressive offshore wind targets align closely with our targets in AB 525,” he said. “Once these goals are set, they will send a strong signal to the industry that California is serious about offshore wind energy. With offshore wind on the way, the Central Coast and San Luis Obispo County are on track to become the clean energy capital of the United States.”
Offshore Wind California, a trade group of offshore wind developers and technology companies, released a statement on Sunday in support of the CEC’s goals and confirmed that the goals are ambitious.
“They show that California is serious about betting on floating offshore wind power to drive economies of scale and realize the significant jobs, climate and clean energy benefits that result from the responsible development of this remarkable renewable energy source,” wrote the group in their statement. “The ultimate goal is to develop a thriving, world-leading floating wind industry and make offshore wind energy a vital part of California’s diverse clean energy portfolio while protecting marine and coastal resources.”
Alla Weinstein, CEO of Castle Wind, a joint venture between renewable energy companies Trident Winds and TotalEnergies, praised the CEC’s work in developing the targets. Castle Wind is looking to develop in the Morro Bay wind energy area.
“The agency’s recent draft offshore wind targets and report represent bold and realistic planning goals for California,” she said in a written statement to The Tribune. “Most, if not all, of the planning targets of 3 gigawatts by 2030 could be met with offshore wind power from the Morro Bay wind farm to be auctioned later this year.”
The CEC’s draft report indicates that the 2.9 GW-compatible Morro Bay wind power area off the coast of San Luis Obispo County is key to achieving the goals – particularly the first goal.
Another well-established wind energy area off the Humboldt County coast to be developed with up to 1.5 gigawatts worth of floating wind turbines is also critical, the staff report said.
These two wind farms are the only ones built off the California coast and a lease sale auction for both sites is expected to take place this fall.
Another area off the coast of San Luis Obispo County near the Diablo Canyon power plant was once established but was taken off the table due to conflicts with the U.S. Navy, according to the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
In addition, two large areas off the coast of Del Norte and Mendocino counties have been evaluated as potentially suitable for offshore wind energy development, but to date no formal wind energy area has been established for these areas.
Wind industry expert: Energy Commission plan “ambitious”
Achieving the CEC’s goals will not be easy, said Jonah Margulis, Aker Offshore Wind’s senior vice president of US operations.
Aker Offshore Wind is an international developer that has been most active in the ongoing process in the Humboldt area but has also expressed interest in building in the Morro Bay area, Margulis said.
“It’s undoubtedly ambitious, and it’s similar to the Biden administration’s ambitious goal of 30 gigawatts by 2030,” he said. “But it’s really in line with what we’ve been campaigning for as an industry… it’s a good signal and a positive signal to the market.”
Margulis said that to realistically meet the goals, the state must consider four factors: port infrastructure, transmission infrastructure, supply chain management, and efficient permitting processes.
Port infrastructure is key, he said, because that’s how offshore wind turbines are maintained and built.
REACH, a Central Coast economic impact research group, found that building a so-called “wind power port” in San Luis Obispo County to support the Morro Bay wind power district could create at least 650 high-paying jobs and $262 million in annual economic impact on the region.
The CEC recently approved a $10.5 million grant to refurbish the Humboldt Bay Harbor to prepare it for offshore wind energy development.
Similarly, the transmission infrastructure of both areas must be equipped to handle the power from the floating wind turbines to ensure the targets can be met, Margulis said.
This will likely be easier to accomplish in Morro Bay, where substations at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant and the now-defunct Morro Bay Power Plant can connect the offshore wind power to the grid. But improvements are necessary and are being analyzed in the Humboldt area.
Then there’s the issue of the supply chain, Margulis said.
“What’s really encouraging for me as a developer – seeing the goals on paper now – is that the supply chain can take care of that,” he said.
Margulis suspects manufacturers will now see the CEC’s goals as essential enough to “leave a footprint” and perhaps build factories on the west coast to support offshore wind power development.
Margulis said he hopes state and federal governments can work together to streamline the extensive permitting processes developers must go through before turbines can be built in the Pacific Ocean. Any delays in these could upset the schedule and prevent the CEC’s goals from being met, he said.
The state agency must take additional steps in the AB 525 process
The CEC will hold a workshop on May 18 to discuss the draft staff report. There will be no vote on the draft report, but the agency will take public comments at the meeting, which will be held in person and virtually.
The draft report will be presented to the CEC during its May 24 meeting, where Commissioners will be able to vote on it, according to Ward.
Next, the CEC must submit a “preliminary assessment of the economic benefits of offshore wind” to the California Natural Resources Agency and others by December 31.
Finally, the bill requires the CEC to prepare a plan for targeted offshore wind energy procurement, including the location of wind turbines, port infrastructure requirements, required power transmission and grid upgrades, and potential impacts on coastal resources, fisheries, Native Americans and indigenous people people and military.
This plan, which will now also include the CEC analysis of maximum viable offshore wind capacity, must be submitted to the California Natural Resources Agency and the California State Legislature by June 30, 2023.
This story was originally published May 9, 2022 5:02 p.m.