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Offshore wind partnership seeks first step of site control

HUMBOLDT – ​A public-private partnership is aiming to gain site control for an offshore wind energy project that will deploy 10 to 15 turbines and produce up to 150 megawatts of electricity.

​At a Sept. 25 public meeting held in Eureka, representatives of the partnership said winning site control through a federal lease auction in 2020 will be a first step. The process will then proceed with project design and studies of environmental and socio-economic impacts.

​Matthew Marshall, the executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), told an audience of about 50 people at Eureka’s Wharfinger Building that the project will be sited 25 to 30 miles offshore of the Eureka area.

​The ocean environment will shape the project’s design. “The offshore turbines are very big – unlike on land, you don’t have the constraint of moving things around by truck,” he said. “So the scale of these is much larger and with fewer turbines, there is more efficiency and reduced costs.”

​Marshall added that the tip of the turbine blades will reach about the height of the Golden Gate Bridge. “You’re getting into the 600-foot tall range,” he said.

For context, Marshall said the former Samoa pulp mill’s smokestack is 300 feet tall – and the turbines’ height may even be more than twice as tall as that.

​“So they will be very big but there will be fewer of them and they’ll be more spaced out,” he continued.

​RCEA is partnering with three companies on the project, the globally-active EDP Renewables, Norway’s Aker Solutions and Principle Power, an Emeryville, California company that specializes in floating turbine platforms.

​The turbines will be mounted on the floating platforms, which will be anchored to the sea bed by synthetic lines.

​A federal agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is helming the process and leasing the project area. The leasing is competitive and awarded through bidding.

​Mark Severy of Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center, described the center’s independent offshore wind feasibility studies. Funded through a variety of sources, the studies assess all aspects of offshore wind development, including a range of potential impacts.

​But the partnership’s specific impact and feasibility assessments won’t be launched until site control is gained. Tyler Studds, an employee of EDP Renewables, acknowledged that there are concerns about that.

​“One concern is, ‘You’re committing to a particular site and then you’re doing the research? What if you find something out that tells you the site doesn’t work?’” he said.

​He added that “to mitigate that risk, we’ve done a lot of research upfront, talking to stakeholders and doing work to identify upfront a site that mitigates potential impacts.”

​The outreach includes tapping the concerns of environmental groups to “identify key research questions” on potential impacts, including those affecting whales and seabirds.

​On the socio-economic scale, the local fishing industry is facing significant impacts. Ken Bates of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association emphasized that his group’s members have been acutely affected by ocean trends related to climate change and generally support projects that reduce carbon emissions.

​But the project will inevitably impact fishermen. “When someone from the fishing fleet looks at a project like this, the first thing we look at, instantly, is how much ground we are going to lose,” said Bates.

​In addition to the “initial footprint of the project itself,” undersea power transmission cables will demand surface area travel lanes for installation and maintenance vessels, he continued. The vessel travel lanes will also have to be clear of fishing gear and Bates said there will also be impacts to fishermen in the harbor area.

​He added that the project’s partnership has taken a positive step in doing early outreach, which has been lacking in other areas of California and the United States.

​After the project site’s lease auction is held in 2020, project design and impact/feasibility assessments will follow. If those elements are favorable and financing is secured, construction will start by 2025.