Talk of developing an offshore wind energy farm in Central Coast waters is picking up speed once again, and two companies have now joined forces to try and cash in on the emerging technology.
Representatives from Trident Winds and German utility company, EnBW, were in Morro Bay Oct. 11 for a public workshop to give the community an update on the progress that’s been made since the last time Trident was in town, back in December 2015.
Alla Weinstein, founder and CEO of Trident Winds, explained that her company and EnBW had formed “Castle Winds,” a limited liability corporation to work on building a 1,000 megawatt wind farm offshore of SLO County and that the focus for locating the wind farm has shifted from 20 miles off Cayucos to now 34 miles off Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
There is also another location now being considered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM off the coast of Point Buchon. The San Simeon site would connect via undersea cables to the power grid at the Morro Bay power plant and the Point Buchon site would likely come ashore at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
Weinstein explained that a lot has happened since she was last in town (December 2015) including the partnership with EnBW and the revelation that the U.S. Navy considers nearly all of the California Coast as an exclusion zone for missile testing and a safety zone for space launches from Vandenberg AFB.
Interest in the clean energy source is strong in Sacramento. “There’s a lot of energy with the ocean,” Weinstein said. “You’ve got wave, tidal and wind.”
She explained that in Europe, where offshore wind farms are burgeoning, the water is shallow and the turbine structures can be set on the sea floor, but the West Coast is much deeper offshore and so the turbines will have to float on the surface. Indeed, the site where Castle Winds is hoping to be able to develop is in water about a half mile deep,. Floating technology has only recently been tested off the Coast of Portugal.
“Until that technology became available,” Weinstein said, “you could not do floatation on the West Coast.” An energy engineer by profession, she said she started working on this idea in 2013.
She submitted an unsolicited bid to the BOEM in January 2016 seeking to lease an area in federal waters, which stretch out 200 miles from shore. The BOEM then sought any other interests and one European company, Statoil, was interested. “That reset the clock,” Weinstein said, “and it became a competitive process.”
The BOEM and several other Federal and State agencies — the California Energy Commission and Coastal Commission chief among them — have formed a task force to address the issue and come up with a permitting process that would streamline what promises to be an extremely complex system to get a license.
In June 2017, the Department of Defense threw a monkey wrench into the whole idea. Weinstein said the DOD said nowhere on the coast is OK for wind turbines.
“It took a year, to June 2018, to negotiate options with the DOD,” Weinstein said. She’s been trying to find areas off California where wind farms could be installed. “There are less conflicts with the military in the north [off the Coast of Humboldt County] but, there are no transmission wires there.”
Trident and EnBW formed their partnership in March 2018 and in April made a “grid connection” request to be able to connect the eventual wind farm with the State’s power grid.
Through the talks with the military, they were able to identify the area offshore from San Simeon more than 30 miles offshore. At that distance, the only place where the turbines might be seen from is Hearst Castle at the top of the Coast Range mountains.
What’s driving this is the State’s goals of being 100-percent off fossil fuel energy generation by 2045 and Weinstein explained that California utilities must be buying 60% of their energy from renewable sources — i.e. wind, hydro and solar — and the other 40% has to be from carbon-free sources. “That’s how we get to 100 percent,” she said.
“Everyone will be looking for renewable energy sources,” she said. The Energy Commission and Public Utilities Commission are realizing that with solar, the timing isn’t good, as solar can’t meet the energy peaks that come at the end of the day, when it’s dark outside, and people are home from work.
“Right now the state is meeting this demand with “Peaker Plants,” small, gas-fired plants that typically produce about 50MW but are good backups because they can be turned on and off fairly quickly and are very reliable. The alternative is to build huge battery storage plants, which she said were not environmentally friendly.
Data from offshore weather buoys shows the wind is more steady than onshore. “It’s not 100 percent,” she said, “but it’s better than just solar.”
It comes down to adequacy of supply. “That’s why offshore wind is important, but we have to deal with the military constraints.”
Weinstein believes permitting is still 5-years off and “by then the technology will produce 9 megawatt turbines. A test of a deepwater floating turbine in Portugal was successful, as the 500-ton displacement structure held up in all kids of weather, including waves 17 meters high (about 37 feet).
That turbine was installed in 2011 and stayed in service for 5 years before it was towed back to shore and dismantled. It has since been installed again off England where she said it should produce energy for the next 20 years.
Their plans on bringing the energy onshore haven’t changed and include using the power plant’s outfall canal to bring their wires ashore and hooking to the grid via a PG&E substation at the power plant. But with the new site off San Simeon, the distance to transmit that electricity got a lot farther.
“Our original site off Cayucos was too close to the military exclusion zone,” Weinstein said. She added that the project will need a total of 33 permits, and have to withstand challenges from environmental groups, as “they will have something to say about it,” Weinstein said.
She anticipates the BOEM will be ready to auction the lease sites — off Diablo Canyon, off San Simeon and off Humboldt County — sometime next summer and they hope to win one of the bids.
Maren Raubenheimer manager O&M conceptual offshore EnBw of Hamburg Germany was also on hand to talk about her company’s role. They are the largest utility in Germany, she said, and had been heavily into nuclear energy until the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear disaster and Germany’s decision to get out of nuclear power.
EnBW has built the first offshore wind farm in Germany in the Baltic Sea. “We operate and maintain our own offshore wind farms,” she said. Their company has some 22 billion Euros in annual revenues, comparable to the size of PG&E. “Everything there is within the energy market,” Raubenheimer said, “we do.”
She likes Morro Bay and said their operation would need certain facilities, namely the power plant intake building for a control room and at least one of the stacks for a communications tower and training.
In Germany, they repurposed an old WWII factory into their service facility, “We want to do the same thing with your old power plant,” she said. She estimated the wind farm would create 45-75 full time engineering jobs, with operations and maintenance people and boat crews as well. “We don’t want to bring 50 Germans here and they do the jobs,” she said. “We want to hire local people.”
They are getting into offshore wind farms and have “Baltic-1,” a 2.3MW turbine that’s been operating for some 8 years. “That’s our baby,” she said.
Though it might be 5-years before a permit is granted, the issue is picking up speed.
Just last week, BOEM put out a call for comments on the three California sites along with information on the process to possibly offer the sites for lease. The three sites total some 1,073 square miles of outer continental shelf waters, or 687,823 acres.
The comment period ends Jan. 27, 2019. See: www.boem.gov/California for information, maps and nautical charts, and to sign up for notifications of future developments.
To learn more about Trident Winds, see: www.tridentwinds.com and see: www.enbw.com to learn more about EnBW.
By Neil Farrell