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Port of Long Beach wants to become a hub for the Central Coast’s offshore wind turbines

A rendering of Pier Wind, a proposed facility at the Port of Long Beach where floating offshore wind turbines would be manufactured and assembled.
Port of Long Beach
A rendering of Pier Wind, a proposed facility at the Port of Long Beach where floating offshore wind turbines would be manufactured and assembled.

Floating offshore wind turbines are planned for the waters off of Morro Bay and Humboldt County, but many details of the plan are still being worked out. One major question is whether a new port would need to be built on the Central Coast for construction, operation and maintenance.

But a potential facility like this may not end up on the Central Coast at all. The Port of Long Beach is proposing a new 400-acre facility called Pier Wind, where the turbines would be manufactured and assembled, then shipped up the coast to San Luis Obispo and Humboldt Counties.

Executive Director Mario Cordero said their harbor is ideal for a project like this. He said their breakwater provides calm seas, the channel is one of the deepest and widest in the U.S., and there are no air height restrictions.

“We're talking about turbines with a height of about a thousand feet — 200 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower. So these turbines are massive," he said.

Cordero said he believes Pier Wind is the best option to kickstart California’s offshore wind projects and help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.

“Time is of the essence with regard to what we need to do to get to 100 percent renewable energy. I do believe that the Port of Long Beach is a beneficial option, [and a] realistic option in terms of the beneficial impact that it will have statewide," he said.

Offshore wind has sparked controversy here in SLO County. While most local lawmakers support the project, some stakeholders in the fishing industry, labor unions and other groups worry it could affect their livelihood and the marine environment. The prospect of a new port on the Central Coast is a large source of that concern, because it would involve major construction and ship traffic.

The Central Coast’s Regional Economic Action Coalition (REACH) published a study last year examining which areas of the Central Coast could house such a facility. It identified areas like Port San Luis, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and Morro Bay as possibilities, but emphasized a more research is needed to find out if any of those areas are really feasible.

A map of the three lease areas for the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
A map of the three lease areas for the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area.

Joshua Boswell, REACH’s Vice President of Policy and Economic Development, said it will be up to Central Coast community members and lawmakers to determine the best place for any new offshore wind infrastructure here to address local concerns and maximize economic benefit.

“We started out a couple of years ago looking at some of the economic impacts, the potential jobs, impacts of offshore wind, and recognizing that most of those benefits are tied to the infrastructure associated with offshore wind," he said.

Boswell acknowledged there is a competitive element to where a new port or similar facility would go, as it would bring in major economic activity wherever it ends up. But he said even if it ends up somewhere else in California, like Long Beach, the Central Coast can still benefit from being part of the statewide infrastructure network needed for offshore wind.

“It's definitely not an either/or in our minds," he said. "I think there's broader recognition across the state and industry that we need a network of ports. And again, what that exact network looks [like] is something we're working to define on the Central Coast.”

Boswell said no matter what happens, he hopes state and federal investments into offshore wind will be distributed equitably across the state.

“The Central Coast and Humboldt in particular have really unique roles to play, given that these are both kind of rural areas that haven't received the lion’s share of state and federal investments in years past. So I think there is a really unique opportunity to make sure that those state and federal investments are targeted in a way that does lift all regions up," he said.

The Port of Long Beach would would have to go through environmental assessments and other processes to get Pier Wind approved, but said they hope the state would streamline that process. Port officials estimate that if approved, they could start construction on Pier Wind in 2027 and start going online in 2031. The full proposal is available at polb.com/pierwind.

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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