It’s a typical sunny morning on the South Coast of Big Sur and you are out hiking. There’s a slight haze on the water. You look out at the horizon and squint. You see a series of shimmering dots. They are not boats, their position is fixed.
Barely within sight is a field of floating wind turbines up to 20 miles offshore, each tower is about 100 feet taller than the Golden Gate Bridge.
This scenario was simulated in a recent study carried out by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The agency is considering leasing out waters off the Central Coast for the development of wind energy as California aims to get all its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.
The proposed offshore wind farm would be the first on the West Coast and the first in the country involving floating turbines. The energy electricity produced would supply millions of homes, which is especially important at night when solar energy is unavailable.
The proposal and its potential visual impacts on Big Sur were presented at a virtual meeting of the Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council on June 19.
“I must be losing my vision because from my laptop I couldn’t really tell where the towers were,” said Butch Kronlund, executive director of the Community Association of Big Sur. “I don’t know if it’s my device or if the visual impact is going to be that minor.”
On the video conference with Kronlund were representatives from the California Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and BOEM, as well as elected leaders representing the Big Sur area.
Kronlund’s reaction is the one that the officials are likely hoping for as they ramp up community outreach for the wind farm plan over the next couple of months. A virtual workshop for the public will take place on July 1 and comments are being accepted until July 31.
“There is, as there should be, a significant community concern regarding this impact,” said U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley. “I am committed to making sure that the Big Sur community is involved in this process. When we eventually put forward a plan to help California meet its energy goals, we must preserve the natural wonder of our home here in Big Sur.”
Whatever comments are received, the government doesn’t have much wiggle room. Most of the ocean off the coast isn’t suitable for a wind farm: the water is either too deep or it’s needed for fishing, there’s no nearby connection to the grid or there’s a habitat that needs protection.
One of the biggest obstacles is the military which tests weapons and trains with live fire off California’s Central Coast. The proposed wind farm areas off of Big Sur were the result of a compromise reached earlier this year between state, federal and military officials.
“The state is moving toward ever higher and more aggressive greenhouse gas and climate goals and that is going to require us to bring more renewable energy online,” said California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas. “We don’t know yet what role offshore wind has to play. But we know we need something, and we know it fits the profile of what we need.”
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