Before Humboldt County begins investing in offshore wind energy, local conservationists and fishermen say more research needs to be done to assess the projects’ local impacts.
That was the consensus today at a meeting of the state Senate’s Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, hosted by committee chairman North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka.
While representatives from the fishermen’s associations and conservation organizations said they are supportive of renewable energy, they want to make sure it is done in a sustainable way that doesn’t negatively impact the fishermen’s livelihoods or the environment.
Annie Hawkins, executive director of fishing industry coalition Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, said the development of offshore wind energy on the East Coast has been problematic for fishermen.
“The first few leases … issued on the East Coast were issued without any consideration for fishing vessel transit,” Hawkins said.
Now that those turbines have been built, Hawkins said it would be difficult to remove them in order to allow fishing vessels to pass.
“It should not ever feel like something that’s being imposed on one industry by another if the goal truly is to work together,” Hawkins said.
Harrison Ibach, president of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said much of California’s waters are already closed to commercial fishing and the installation of wind turbines is going to further reduce the number of areas where fishermen can operate.
“We can’t afford to lose any more grounds,” Ibach said.
Sandy Aylesworth, oceans advocate with the environmental advocacy nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, said not enough research has been done in the area to truly understand what the impacts of offshore turbines will be.
There is limited information on the Humboldt Call Area’s seafloor, Aylesworth said, but in 2016 an autonomous underwater vehicle mapped some of the area, finding 20 species of coral, eight species of sponges and 18 species of fish. The coral area is also between two submarine canyons that serve as a feeding ground as well as a carbon sequestration and storage area.
There needs to be a thorough survey of the area to determine areas with high densities and diversity, Aylesworth said.
Chet Ogan, Redwood Region Audubon Society board director, said floating turbines would also create an environment were algae could form, drawing fish to the area that will end up attracting birds.
An estimated 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year in North America, according to the Audubon Society.
The conservationists and fishermen agreed that it would be best to start small and scale the projects up as monitoring is done.
Mark Severy, senior research engineer at Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center, said beyond the impact to the environment, there are a number of research projects that will help get more information about the impacts of wind energy.
Some of that research, such as looking into the environmental impacts of subsea cables connecting the wind turbines to the electrical grid, will be preliminary and will need to be followed up, Severy said. Other aspects of the research will be more final and won’t require further investigating.
But before any development could take place, Severy said significant upgrades would need to be made to the harbor and the area’s electrical grid, which doesn’t have the capacity to hold the amount of energy that would be generated.
The potential to develop offshore wind turbines is still years away, however, since several different federal, state and local agencies are part of the permitting and regulation process, said Necy Sumait, chief of renewable energy in the Pacific region at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The absolute soonest the area can expect to see a turbine is 2025, Sumait said.
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