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‘Wind resource in Humboldt is phenomenal’: Local experts look into area wind energy feasibility

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority is looking into the feasibility of providing Humboldt County with some of its energy needs through offshore wind turbines.

On top of seeking partners, the authority also wants to assemble a new community advisory committee to give input on the project as it moves forward, RCEA Community Strategies Manager and open house coordinator Nancy Stephenson said. The board will formally decide on project partners and the committee members at its next meeting March 19, she said.

The authority is moving forward with research and the application process after holding two open houses on the subject last week, Stephenson said.

“They were well-attended,” she said, adding that more public workshops, the dates of which have not yet been determined, are in the works.

According to Stephenson, the authority is “still in the exploration phase” of installing 12 to 15 700-foot-tall wind turbines about 25 miles offshore from the mouth of Humboldt Bay, which could provide 120 megawatts of energy output to the area.

“That’s about the limit of what we could utilize locally,” she said.

In late February, the authority issued a request for qualifications for offshore wind energy development partners with aims of applying for an outer continental shelf renewable energy commercial lease from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in spring 2018. Stephenson said the application deadline has passed and a not-publicly releasable number of qualifications were received.

“We’ve had two meetings with our review panel,” she said.

Humboldt State University Schatz Energy Research Center managing research engineer David Carter said even if all the research, design and permitting move forward without major setbacks it could take five to seven years before ground – or in this case water – is broken.

“There’s so many steps that have to be made before they actually put turbines in the water,” he said.

Carter said it is feasible for wind to provide power for the county.

“We have a world-class offshore wind resource,” he said.

But Carter added the caveat that the current electric grid in Humboldt County isn’t designed to export power so if the power the 12 to 15 proposed turbines provide proves to be above and beyond local usage, the entire electrical system would need to be upgraded.

“That’s a reasonable number to start with,” he said.

Schatz is currently looking into finding the “tipping point” between providing just enough and too much energy for the current grid, Carter said.

He estimated the total project cost to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“These types of projects are in that range and are executed by firms with vast balance sheets and have done offshore wind before,” said Carter, noting these are the type of firms that have expressed interest in partnering with the authority on this project.

He said Schatz is also looking environmental impacts of the project. Stephenson said the authority is researching the effects the project could have on bird and whale migration as well as fishing and transportation impacts.

“I think we’re pretty early in the process but as David mentioned the wind resource in Humboldt is phenomenal and it’s exciting to see the technology catch up,” RCEA Executive Director Matthew Marshall said.

More information can be found at redwoodenergy.org and schatzlab.org.