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Offshore wind farms could be California’s next big energy rush

Looking to an underutilized but readily available resource, a California lawmaker is pressing the state to look to the Pacific Ocean in its endless search for clean energy.

As the Golden State continues to grow its renewable energy capabilities, Assemblyman David Chiu says the state must tap into offshore winds to meet its ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. With over 800 miles of California coastline, Chiu claims massive offshore wind farms are the commonsensical complement to the state’s solar energy portfolio.

Lawmakers and former Governor Jerry Brown approved legislation in 2018 that requires utilities to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

And after a calamitous 2020 that revealed the glaring weaknesses of California’s energy grid, Chiu introduced legislation Thursday that would usher in a rush of new floating turbines as well as clean energy jobs.

“We’ve gotten a preview of the havoc climate change will wreak on our state, as we have weathered heatwaves, wildfires and rolling blackouts,” Chiu said in an introductory press conference. “It’s a good time to think about how we’re going to rebuild; cleaner, greener and with a focus on putting Californians back to work.”

Assembly Bill 525 would require state regulators to set a planning target of at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind production by 2040, with a short-term goal of 3 GW by 2030. To set the plan in motion, AB 525 also directs state agencies to begin securing necessary federal permits and planning for port upgrades and other infrastructure projects.

According to a recent study by various California regulators, by 2045 the state will need to be able to produce and store at least 140 GW of new renewable energy. It also estimates offshore wind could produce a maximum of 112 GW annually.

Meanwhile data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration pegs California’s 2018 total energy consumption as second highest in the nation, but fourth lowest per capita due to its climate and energy efficiency programs.

Along with boosting the state’s supply of green energy, supporters say building wind farms will bring up to 14,000 new jobs to coastal areas like Diablo Canyon, Morro Bay and Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

A collection of labor unions has already signed up to co-sponsor Chiu’s bill.

“Offshore wind is the next frontier, and our highly skilled workforce is positioned to bring a new, limitless and reliable green energy source onto California’s grid,” said Robbie Hunter, president of State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. “If you will, it’s a wind-win.”

While offshore wind proposals have failed across the state in recent years, Chiu hopes the Biden administration will be more a more willing partner this time around. He’s confident California will be able to map out projects without interfering with Navy bases and operations while securing the necessary leases and operating permits from the federal government.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity,” said Chiu, D-San Francisco. “The wind off California’s coast has enormous potential to meet clean energy goals, combat climate change and provide good-paying jobs.”

The bill’s proponents, which include environmental, labor and wind industry groups, note that California is playing from behind when it comes to offshore wind. A variety of East Coast states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia have already set commitments to produce 25 GW of offshore wind energy by 2035.

Due to the amount of planning and infrastructure improvements needed, the backers say a firm commitment from the state is paramount to jumpstarting the industry.

“We’ve seen in other states that offshore wind requires unique planning, permitting, and development considerations; none of this will happen on its own,” said Danielle Osborn Mills, director of American Clean Power-California. “California is falling behind on its climate goals at a time when the rest of the country is doubling down on clean energy.”