Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal announced last week that the public comment period on a proposed offshore wind development off the Central Coast has now closed – and with a new commitment from the Navy in hand.
With the Energy Commission comment period closed, Carbajal has called on the Offshore Wind Working Group to reconvene and move forward with negotiations on a leasing area for the development.
“Now that the public comment period is over and the Navy has indicated their commitment to work with us to identify a region that meets our energy needs while balancing the readiness needs of the military, I’ve called the Offshore Wind Working Group together again to work toward an agreement that satisfies all parties,” Carbajal said. “I’m excited to continue our efforts to bring offshore wind energy and jobs to the Central Coast. Let’s get to work.”
The Offshore Wind Working Group was created in August 2019 and is composed of representatives from the offices of Carbajal and Rep. Jimmy Panetta of Carmel Valley, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Department of Defense (DOD), Navy, and California Energy Commission (CEC).
The working group paused its monthly meetings to hear public input on possible solutions that could accommodate a viable offshore wind industry on the Central Coast while also meeting the mission of the DOD to test, train and operate. During this pause, negotiations stalled amid hesitation from the Navy.
In recent years, the Department of Defense has offered mixed messages as to whether it would support wind energy projects off Morro Bay, reminding proponents and developers it considers these waters as critical for Navy exercises. Last winter, the DOD seemed to suggest it would cooperate with a state working group to find locations that would be acceptable only to reject any deal a few months later.
In July, Carbajal offered an amendment during the House Armed Services Committee markup of the FIscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to move the development forward in and near the Morro Bay Call Area and get negotiations back on track.
Following the amendment’s passage, Carbajal secured a written commitment from the Navy indicating a willingness to collaborate with the working group to identify an area for development that would meet energy production goals.
The letter from Navy Secretary Kenneth J. Braithwaite reads, in part, “After our discussions, I have a better appreciation for the energy challenges that lie ahead for the state of California, and your efforts to achieve sustainable energy solutions and a desire to produce three gigawatts of energy from offshore wind. I look forward to working with you to identify a solution and offering support where we can to help resolve this to all parties’ satisfaction.”
Carbajal said he appreciated the Navy’s openness to the idea.
“As a veteran, I’m grateful for the Navy’s willingness to work with us on a solution that balances our national security interests and our energy needs,” Carbajal said. “Thank you to Secretary Braithwaite for taking this significant step to help the Central Coast achieve our renewable energy potential.”
During the comment period, a potential plan to move wind turbines closer to the shore – in part to satisfy the Navy – met with a mostly hostile response from locals including a Morro Bay-based fishing group and environmental interests who said they preferred keeping the floating, 900-foot turbines 30 miles offshore, mostly out of sight.
California’s need for new energy sources
The need for new energy sources has only continued to grow this year, as the state has suffered through a summer of record-breaking heat waves, blackouts and wildfires.
A flurry of state power outages has stepped up calls to build renewable power sources that don’t shut off when the sun goes down – investments that include storage, wind and other power sources available around the clock.
Advocates says offshore wind is a potential large, untapped energy source, with up to a capacity of 21 gigawatts of energy. Unlike some power sources, these turbines wouldn’t be impacted by wildfire.
Offshore wind could help California reach its goal of achieving 60 percent production from renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent renewable and carbon-free electricity by 2045.
A September state report says that based on the 2018 California energy mix, renewables must account for 29 percent more of the energy mix by 2030. Assuming large hydro production remains constant and nuclear production ceases when Diablo Canyon is shuttered in 2025, renewable production may need to account for at least 89 percent of the total California energy mix by 2045 to reach the goal.
The California Energy Commission points out that siting offshore generation off the Central Coast – compared to the far North Coast – can use existing transmission infrastructure near population centers.
“Existing transmission infrastructure on the Central Coast is designed to reliably deliver the output of both the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (~2,000 MW) and the retired Morro Bay Power Plant (~1,000 MW). Offshore wind from the Central Coast is an opportunity for a source of clean energy in proximity to existing transmission infrastructure and energy consumers.”