At last, California—building on its history of technological innovation and environmental leadership—is on a path to harness its ample offshore wind resources. Following years of stalled-out negotiations with the Department of Defense during the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced Morro Bay and Humboldt as the first two Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in federal waters offshore California.
The announcement is the next step in the federal process to lease areas offshore California to develop offshore wind. An in-state offshore wind industry would create thousands of well-paying clean energy jobs and speed the transition away from fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions. Offshore wind companies envision at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind, or about 1,200 square miles of development in offshore waters. Yet, rapidly scaling up a new industry in California’s ecologically rich and commercially valuable offshore waters must be done right, with care taken from the very beginning to build in protections for the marine environment.
Responsible offshore wind energy avoids, minimizes, mitigates, and monitors adverse impacts on marine and coastal wildlife and their habitats; reduces negative impacts on other ocean uses; includes robust consultation with Native American tribes and communities; meaningfully engages state and local governments and stakeholders from the outset; and uses the best available scientific data to ensure science-based and stakeholder-informed decision making. Developing this new industry in a responsible way will build support and a foundation of trust for this industry.
Within the new WEAs, BOEM should work with all parties to develop offshore wind in the least environmentally sensitive areas. And, as we look ahead to help further address the state’s offshore wind needs, we need a process to ensure responsible buildout for this industry along the California coast. Two state-led initiatives meet this need. First, Governor Gavin Newsom recently proposed $20M for state activities in support of offshore wind. Second, Assembly Bill 525 (AB 525), authored by Assembly Member David Chiu and others, would set the stage for meaningful public engagement and rigorous siting that minimizes environmental impacts.
AB 525 calls for the development of a strategic plan to determine how much offshore wind energy California needs and it then requires the state to do landscape-level planning to identify “least-conflict” sites so that ecological harm from developments is minimized. By focusing on areas with the greatest success for development, we can advance offshore wind’s growth along our coast faster. The legislation calls for the state to develop recommendations for monitoring and mitigation of any environmental damage, and to make a commitment to continuously adapting offshore wind development requirements to new information on environmental impacts. Adaptive management will be critical because floating offshore wind turbines are a nascent technology; we will need to learn as we go and make changes when necessary.
With today’s announcement, California’s offshore wind journey is truly underway. Developing offshore wind responsibly will get us to our low-carbon future in the right way. The BOEM announcement, sand AB 525 will, in concert, maintain California’s visionary leadership on renewable energy and marine protections, helping us deploy this new, exciting clean energy resource while protecting fragile ocean ecosystems.