California’s “jealous guardianship of the ocean” could slow offshore wind development off the Golden State, say developers and regulators.
Offshore wind is on a much slower development curve off the US west coast than off the northeast, in large part because the continental shelf drops off rapidly along the Pacific coast compared to the shallower Atlantic waters. But things got interesting in January 2016, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) received its first-ever lease request for a commercial offshore wind farm off California, from Seattle-based Trident Wind.
Trident wants to build a massive offshore wind farm using floating foundations off the coast of Morro Bay, along California’s central coast.
BOEM asked the industry if there was any other interest in the area, and Norway’s Statoil – currently building the five-turbine Hywind Buchan Deep floating wind project off Scotland – said yes.
A competitive lease auction is expected at some point in California, the first to be held on the west coast, though BOEM officials will not give a potential timeline.
Trident chief executive Alla Weinstein, who previously led floating offshore wind specialist Principle Power, believes California needs offshore wind to meet its 50% renewables target for 2030, a case that becomes even stronger if the recent push for a 100% target becomes reality.
Weinstein predicts California will get its first offshore turbine in “2025 or 2026”, and says there’s a reason Trident filed its request a decade early: permitting challenges. “I think permitting probably will be the critical path, more so than the [floating] technology,” she said at a recent industry conference.
“We’re dealing with a market where people don’t really want to see too many things in their ocean.”
Joan Barminski, BOEM’s Pacific regional director, acknowledged California’s “jealous guardianship of the ocean”, saying “people are vocal” in the state – and it will take a “robust” effort to get all the relevant state and federal permitting bodies and other stakeholders on the same page.
Famous for its majestic Pacific views and surfing culture, California will be “the hardest state in the nation to permit an offshore wind farm”, says Jim Lanard, chief executive of offshore developer Magellan Wind.
On top of potential environmental conflicts, Lanard says, there’s the US Defense Department – “a major stakeholder with which it’s going to take a lot of work to find a collaborative outcome”.
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