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Despite having 840 miles of coastline, engineering challenges, regulatory hurdles, and concerns about turbines’ impact on wildlife have prevented offshore wind from flourishing in California’s waters.
But now less than a month after approving the nation’s first offshore wind project in Massachusetts, the White House announced it has identified an area that will support 3 gigawatts of offshore wind off California’s central coast region. In addition, the Biden administration is advancing Humboldt Call Area as a potential Wind Energy Area (WEA), located off northern California’s Humboldt County. The two areas could generate a combined 4,600 megawatts of clean electricity — enough to power 1.6 million homes.
Why This Matters: The United States has to make significant investments in renewable energy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and experts say that wind power is the most efficient route toward a green energy economy. The nation’s wind energy potential is estimated to be double that of its current electricity use.
Yet in California’s waters, the Department of Defense had previously opposed offshore wind farms stating that they could interfere with the extensive military training conducted off the coast. This announcement is a story of success on many levels as the Departments of Interior and Defense along with the state of California were able to identify WEAs that Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, said are out of the way of military operations.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said of the cross-governmental announcement: “I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best-available science to make it happen. Today’s announcement reflects months of active engagement and dedication between partners who are committed to advancing a clean energy future.”
The Specifics: Since its proposal, a plan to build offshore wind farms in California has been complicated by logistics and U.S. Navy opposition to obstacles in sailing waters. But on Tuesday, the Navy dropped its former position and put its full support behind the Interior Department.
Governor Gavin Newsom says that the California sites could one day have more than 300 turbines.
The Worries: Some worry that logistical challenges may remain. Turbines are easiest to build in shallower waters like those off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. But the floor of the Pacific ocean drops steeply from the coastline, making construction much more complicated.
But Newsom assured that with the full might of the federal and state governments and many eager investors, the project will find success, “We expect an enormous amount of interest.”
One German company, ENBW, intends to bid on leases to build a floating turbine farm called the Castle Wind project. Both California and the federal government have been working with the company to make a massive floating wind energy regiona reality. ENBW company spokesperson Damian Bednarz is looking forward to the future, “now there is a federal government that is organized and clearly perceived the issue of climate change…We have heard this message from week one of this administration, and now you’re seeing it play out.”
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