(AP) — California
and the United States
announced on Tuesday an agreement to allow the first commercial wind energy
farms on the Pacific Coast to be built off the state's central and northern coasts.
The agreement to float hundreds of turbines off the coasts of Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay was hailed as a game changer, with the potential to power 1.6 million homes and assist the state and federal governments in meeting ambitious climate change
targets through clean energy production.
“As we all know, California has a world-class offshore wind resource that can play a significant role in accelerating California’s and the nation’s transition to clean energy,” said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
The plan calls for floating 380 windmills across a nearly 400-square-mile (1,035-square-kilometer) expanse of sea 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Morro Bay; the site could be finalized next month and made available for lease the following year.
The announcement is part of President Joe Biden
's plan to develop 30 gigatonnes of offshore wind power
If approved and built, the new projects would represent a significant expansion of offshore wind power in the United States. Currently, there are only two operational offshore wind farms — off Block Island in Rhode Island
and off Virginia
— but more than a dozen others are in the planning stages.
According to Sandy Louey of the California Energy Commission
, the projects will require several stages of approval, beginning with an early review by the Coastal Commission and continuing with federal and state environmental reviews following a lease sale.
Gov. Gavin Newsom
, a Democrat, said this month that he included $20 million in his revised budget proposal to help expedite the projects' environmental review.
“We value process, but not the paralysis of a process that takes years and years and years when it can be done much more focusedly,” Newsom said.
Environmental organizations such as Audubon and the Natural Resources Defense Council have issued statements in support of the project, with the caveat that fish
, seabirds, and marine mammals are protected.
The Environmental Defense Center, founded in Santa Barbara in the aftermath of a massive offshore oil
spill in 1969, echoed that sentiment, urging that species and coastal communities be harmed as little as possible.
“We must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure offshore wind is a net positive for California by implementing strong environmental safeguards,” Kristen Hislop said in a statement.
Fishermen, on the other hand, are concerned that the construction and operation of such large-scale projects will disrupt the ecosystem, and that they have not been consulted about the potential impact on their industry.
“We don’t feel like we’ve been invited to the table; we feel like we’re on the menu,” Mike Conroy, executive director of The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said.
The area off Morro Bay is a tuna and sword fish fishery, and he is concerned that the floating turbines will alter the migratory patterns of whales and other species. For example, if blue and humpback whales are forced closer to shore, Dungeness crab fishing may be closed.
The areas were selected in collaboration with the state, the Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, and the Department of Defense, which conducts training and weapons testing off the coast.
The agreement comes just two weeks after the Biden administration
announced a $3 billion project off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
, that would power 400,000 homes with 84 turbines and be the first utility-scale wind power development in federal waters.
Another proposed project, Ocean Wind, would generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity off the coast of New Jersey
The scale of the projects in California would dwarf those wind farms.
The California wind farms would generate a total of 4.6 gigatonnes, with the Morro Bay operation providing two-thirds of that output. Wind turbines on mountain passes and in deserts across the state can currently generate 5.5 gigatonnes, according to the California Wind Energy Association.
Unlike the wind farms on the East Coast
, which use stationary turbines, the California projects will use a newer floating technology because the continental shelf in the Pacific drops off faster than in the Atlantic.
California has set a goal of generating all of its electricity from renewable energy sources and zero-carbon power plants