By Sonia Waraich | Eureka Times-Standard | June 4, 2022 | www.times-standard.com
The state and federal government set ambitious goals for developing renewable energy— like Humboldt County’s offshore wind project – but how quickly that development materializes locally is a matter of debate.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published a proposed sale notice for five commercial wind energy leases off the coast of California – three off the coast of Morro Bay in Southern California and two off the coast of Humboldt Bay. The combined area up for lease is 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, 1.6 to 1.8 GW of which could come from the North Coast once the Humboldt wind energy area was fully built out.
Norway-based Aker Offshore Wind is interested in developing offshore wind projects in both regions and has been working with both the local community and Morro Bay for four years. Jonah Margulis, senior vice president of Aker Offshore Wind, said there are different challenges in both areas.
“In the north, it’s mainly a transmission challenge,” Margulis said. “In the central, it’s mainly a port challenge.”
The climate crisis is intensifying with each passing year and climate scientists agree the fastest ways to decarbonize our society is to develop renewable energy sources and put an end to our reliance on fossil fuels. TState and federal government set ambitious targets to generate 100% clean electricity by 2035, giving them a little more than a decade to make the transition.
Transitioning to a society powered by renewable energy is going to require significant investments to upgrade the electric grid, which was designed to transmit energy generated from large fossil fuel sources. Right now, many areas have to curtail the amount of energy they’re producing from renewable sources in order to avoid damaging the grid.
A community-scale wind project in the Humboldt wind energy area would need to curtail energy production at times, but the local transmission infrastructure is capable of handling a 140 to 170 megawatt project, which is more than the 100 or so MW needed to serve the region’s needs, according to a transmission feasibility study conducted by Cal Poly Humboldt’s Schatz Energy Research Center, utility infrastructure consulting firm Quanta Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Aker is considering developing a 150 MW project in the area initially because that could be built today without requiring significant transmission upgrades, Margulis said.
“To do the full build-out of Humboldt, the 1.6 GW, … you would need some pretty significant transmission upgrades,” Margulis said. “So, I think certainly by 2030 you could see some build-out of that, but not the full build-out.”
Humboldt County’s electric grid is somewhat isolated from the rest of the state and connecting it to the rest of the state once the wind farm was fully built out would require billions in investment. The Schatz Center and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. examined four potential options, including two overland routes and two undersea cable routes, with an estimated cost between $1.7 and $4.4 billion.
The 20-year transmission outlook by the California Independent System Operator, which maintains the reliability of the state’s energy grid, found upgrading the infrastructure in the Morro Bay area would cost about $110 million, while it would cost $5.8 to $8 billion on the North Coast assuming 4 GW of offshore wind energy generation.
The process for completing large-scale transmission upgrades is complex and has often taken a decade or more, Arne Jacobson, director of the Schatz Center, said during a webinar earlier this year.
“That doesn’t mean there can’t be a goal or target to do it faster than that,” Jacobson said.
There’s a higher potential to build out more quickly off Morro Bay because it already has the transmission capabilities, though the port improvements would need to be made, Margulis said.
Larry Oetker, executive director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, has been working on the port improvements needed for the development of offshore wind and he’s more optimistic about how soon there will be a full buildout.
Oetker pointed to the fact that the governor is pushing to keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant online past 2025, when the state’s last nuclear power plant was set to stop operating.
“If Diablo Canyon is still online, then the Central Coast is going to have the same transmission issues as the North Coast,” Oetker said.
Oetker said he unequivocally believes there will be a full buildout of the Humboldt wind energy area by the end of the decade because of the climate crisis and the fact that the war in Ukraine has launched the oil industry into a crisis as well.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also makes significant investments in upgrading the country’s transmission infrastructure, which the Biden-Harris administration estimates needs to triple by 2050.
“The oil industry is not the future,” Oetker said. “If anybody hasn’t realized that by now then they’re in for a rude awakening. We’re in a crisis and the state and federal government and other entities in charge of these are going to make sure this happens. I’m convinced of that because the public will demand it.”
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2022/06/05/challenges-face-wind-energy-project-off-the-humboldt-county-coast/