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Energy commission adopts ambitious offshore wind goals that could accelerate Morro Bay wind farms

Morro Bay Harbor and the Pacific beyond
Thomas Wilmer
The waters off of Morro Bay are planned to someday be the site of offshore wind turbines that could develop a massive amount of renewable energy for the state.

The California Energy Commission voted today to move forward with a historic target for offshore wind energy in the state, setting a goal they say could power almost 4 million homes by 2030 and 25 million homes by midcentury.

Ahead of the vote, the Offshore Wind Now Coalition held a press conference outside the California Natural Resources Agency building in Sacramento. Laura Deehan is the director of Environment California, one of the nonprofits involved in the coalition.

“I am so excited to be here today at a truly historic moment,” she said. “California is about to go big on offshore wind, which is the thing that we have really been working on for several years.”

Advocates like Deehan say offshore wind is a crucial part of the state’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, and that planned offshore wind energy areas off of Morro Bay and Humboldt County will help the state shift away from fossil fuels.

Deehan pointed out that the West Coast is one of the best areas in the world for this kind of energy production, and that the Wednesday vote is a way to finally capitalize on that potential.

Inside the building, Commission Chair David Hochschild called offshore wind an “incredible” energy source for California. He said it not only complements but actually exceeds the potential of other renewable energy sources on land, like solar.

“It is peaking at the time of day, at the time of year when we need it most. It is a perfect complement to solar; when solar is going down in the late afternoons [and] early evenings, offshore wind is going up,” he said.

Thomas Wilmer
Some local fishermen and environmentalists worry that offshore wind development would harm fish or bird populations in the area.

The energy commission’s vote moves forward its goal of about 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, and 25,000 megawatts by 2045. If reached, the commission estimates those targets would produce enough electricity to power almost 4 million homes within the end of this decade, and 25 million homes by the midpoint of this century.

Hochschild says the effects of this vote are amplified when considering it could lead the way for other states to make similar plans.

“I think what we do here matters far more than we realize. We have a great track record of starting big things in California, of pushing the envelope, and then that spreading,” Hochschild said.

Kris Ohleth is the director of the Initiative on Offshore Wind Development, which provides analysis and guidance for the offshore wind industry. During public comment, she said existing offshore wind projects on the East Coast can provide an example for how California should approach developing its own coastal waters for wind turbines.

Several states on the East Coast, she said, have succeeded in bringing together different stakeholders in offshore wind.

“In each of these cases, the states, federal agencies, tribes, offshore wind developers and stakeholders have worked together to advance the states’ goals in a responsible and effective way.”

Ohleth said the East Coast’s example shows these goals really are attainable.

“We congratulate California on its work thus far, and look forward to strategic planning efforts required by AB 525that, like on the East Coast, can help support deployment of a responsible, durable and sustainable offshore wind sector.”

However, there are also concerns about what development of offshore wind could do to the places planned to host future offshore wind development, like Morro Bay.

During one of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s public meetings this year, Cheri Hafer with the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization expressed concern that wind turbines could affect the local fishing industry.

“One of our biggest enemies right now is industrialization of the ocean," Hafer said. "Not just to fishermen, but to the marine habitat.”

Hafer said the fishing industry needs to be taken seriously and be more included in the conversation and process of developing this project. She also advocated for a kind of trigger to stop construction or operation of the potential wind project if it’s found to affect fish populations and therefore the number of fish caught, known as “landings.”

Trident Winds Morro Bay proposal

“There should be some trigger if our landings are significantly decreased," Hafer said.

People in the fishing industryhave also expressed concern about a potential deep sea port that could be constructed somewhere on the Central Coast in the next few years. It would service the offshore wind turbines and generate jobs in the area, but some worry about potential impacts to wildlife, like whales or seabirds.

However, there is not conclusive evidence that these turbines would have a significant impact on those animal populations on the West Coast. Offshore wind advocates like the Initiative on Offshore Wind Development say offshore wind projects on the East Coast have shown that turbines are not a threat to the fishing industry there.

But despite these concerns, there is still overwhelming support for offshore wind off the California coast. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed 81% of adults in California favor wind energy projects like the one planned off of Morro Bay. Although, 55% said they would not be willing to pay more for energy from renewable sources.

At the press conference, Deehan said today’s development is a culmination of years of effort, and while it’s definitely not the last step in the process of achieving California’s offshore wind generation potential, it is a huge step forward.

“We can really truly catch that wind, and use it to power our lives. And that is what California is committing to doing today, in a really big way,” she said.

The federal and state processes for developing the Morro Bay and Humboldt Wind Energy Areas are underway right now. There are documents, meeting recordings and opportunities for public comment on energy.ca.gov.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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