Sensing a change in direction from the White House, California is prepping to make offshore wind the next big thing in its pursuit of clean energy.
Still reeling from a summer of rolling blackouts across the state’s largest cities, lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation requiring regulators to clear the way for a rush of floating wind farms over the next two decades.
The bill’s author pitched offshore wind to the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee as a twofer: a way to fight global warming and create high paying green jobs.
“As we think about how to address this climate crisis and put people back to work, there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do both just 20-30 miles off our coast,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. “California has access to one of the world’s greatest untapped resources of renewable energy; offshore wind.”
If signed into law, Assembly Bill 525 would require regulators to develop a roadmap by 2023 detailing ways the state can prop new offshore wind projects on the Pacific Ocean. To set the plan in motion, AB 525 also directs state agencies to begin securing necessary federal permits and planning for port upgrades.
Furthermore, the bill directs the California Energy Commission to coordinate with the energy industry and labor groups on infrastructure projects as well as consider potential projects’ impact on coastal and marine ecosystems.
The bipartisan proposal sailed through its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, clearing the committee unanimously. The proposal must still pass the Assembly Natural Resources and Appropriations committees before a potential floor vote, and then repeat the process in the Senate.
Co-author Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham said offshore wind will play a crucial role in diversifying the state’s energy portfolio as it continues to turn to renewables. With the 2025 closure date of the state’s last nuclear power plant drawing closer, he argued the state should follow the lead of the United Kingdom and quickly embrace offshore wind technology.
“As a direct result of their investment in offshore wind, they’ve seen those climate reductions, their energy has gotten cheaper and their entire society has benefitted,” said Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo. “California is the perfect place to develop this new market and exciting technology.”
For decades California has been a key producer of wind energy as in 2019 it generated nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW), fifth most of any state. But unlike some of the other major producers on the East Coast, its wind energy haul is wholly land-based.
Though California has over 800 miles of steep coastline, traditional offshore wind technologies aren’t feasible due the immense depths of the Pacific Ocean. The solution, proponents say, is moving away from fixed-bottom turbines in favor of an army of floating ones.
The floating option would involve cabling or mooring the turbines to an underwater platform hundreds of feet underwater and allow generation to occur above submarine basins such as the Monterey Canyon.
Once the infrastructure is installed near places like Diablo Canyon, Morro Bay and Mendocino and Humboldt counties, experts say California would be ready to cash in on an endless source of clean energy.
Researchers with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated the state could realize up to 200,000 MW of energy off its shores. For comparison, the Biden administration recently announced a goal of 30,000 MW – or enough to power 10 million homes for a year – by 2030.
But before the wind rush can truly kick-off, California will have to figure out how to build onshore infrastructure and smooth out hurdles caused by other coastal activities like shipping, fishing, marine conservation and the U.S. Navy.
The good news for now is that the federal government appears ready to partner with states like California on offshore wind. Last month the Biden administration said it would fast-track permits and offer billions in loans for new offshore wind projects.
“President Biden believes we have an enormous opportunity in front of us to not only address the threats of climate change, but use it as a chance to create millions of good-paying, union jobs that will fuel America’s economic recovery,” the White House said of the plan.
Chiu said lawmakers should jump at the chance to partner with the feds on offshore wind, noting it could bring thousands of new jobs to coastal California and clean energy for the rest of the state.
“We are behind and we need to take the opportunity to step up and ensure that we’re part of the national plan,” said Chiu.
According to a recent study by various California regulators, by 2045 the state will need to be producing and storing at least 140,000 MW of new renewable energy to meet its goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. Lawmakers and former Governor Jerry Brown set the ambitious energy target in 2018, arguing the state must ditch coal for solar and wind.
The initial proposal called for planning targets of at least 3,000 MW by 2030 and 10,000 MW by 2040, but the committee’s analysis called the goals premature. Under the amendments accepted by Chiu, regulators will determine any future targets relating to generation.
A laundry list of environmental and labor groups are backing AB 525 while none testified against the bill during Wednesday’s hearing. However committee vice chair Assemblyman Jim Patterson said agricultural groups and the California Large Energy Consumers Association are worried the shift to offshore wind could increase energy costs down the road.
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