Offshore wind energy is one step closer to becoming a reality on the Central Coast, and with it, hundreds of potential jobs and renewable energy generation that will be much needed when the Diablo Canyon Power Plant closes. But the local commercial fishing industry continues to raise concerns over how such an undertaking will impact their livelihoods.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its draft environmental assessment for leasing the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area earlier this month, and heard public comment on the report at an April 14 meeting. Further environmental assessment will be required before a wind farm project is actually approved and built—this draft just looks at the impacts of the leasing process.
“We expect to publish a proposed sale notice this spring,” Acting Renewable Energy Section Chief Jennifer Miller said at the meeting. “However, steel in the water is still a number of years away and engineering challenges do await us.”
The environmental assessment details the potential impacts of the offshore wind leasing process on marine and coastal habitats, commercial fishing, tourism, and other areas.
“Data collection buoys and vessel traffic associated with [offshore wind leasing] may generate space-use conflicts and interfere with fishing operations by creating areas no longer accessible as fishing grounds, reducing fishing efficiency, and/or causing economic losses associated with gear entanglement,” BOEM’s environmental assessment states.
The report concludes that potential impacts to commercial fishing from the leasing process are expected to be “minor and temporary in duration (five years or less)” and will impact an area that is “comparatively small in size when compared to the full extent of available fishing grounds.”
But some local commercial fishers are concerned about what happens after those five years of “minor and temporary” impacts. Per BOEM’s process, only after a lease is issued will a site assessment be conducted to “determine the suitability of the leases for commercial offshore wind production and transmission,” Miller said.
“You say that we’re not there yet, we don’t know enough about the project to be able to do these other more full-scale assessments,” Steve Scheiblauer with the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries said during public comment. “But respectfully, I think that’s at best a half-truth. … We know enough to readily foresee a lot of impacts, and probably especially for the commercial fishing industry.”
Lisa Gilbane, a BOEM biologist, acknowledged the impacts the leasing process will have on fisheries. But BOEM officials maintained that it’s too early in the process to conduct further assessment.
“The space use conflicts are relatively low,” Gilbane said. “However, talking about commercial fishing in one breath is too high level. We do acknowledge that different fisheries, specifically the ones that focus more in the 900 to 1,300 meter water, will have interactions and impacts from our activities, even at a leasing stage.”
While the bulk of public commenters at the meeting were concerned about commercial fishing industry impacts, others commended BOEM for embarking on the long and bureaucratically arduous process of bringing offshore wind to the Central Coast.
“I think it’s going to do a lot of benefit to mitigate climate change and contribute to the renewable energy sector in California,” said public commenter Kenneth Gluck. “… Obviously there’s mitigating that needs to be addressed, specifically fishing, marine mammals, sea bottom habitat, things of that nature. But we do have a good opportunity in Morro Bay to go forward with this project.”
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