By Neil Farrell
A federal agency tasked with leasing offshore areas for wind farms will return to San Luis Obispo for a public meeting and update on their progress. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM, an agency within the U.S. Department of Interior, will hold a public meeting from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13 at the County Government Center Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 1055 Monterey St., Rm. D-170.BOEM plans to share information on its planning activities and a “Call for Information and Nominations” on Oct. 19, according to a BOEM news release, “to solicit public input on the potential for offshore wind energy development
within three Call Areas: two in Central California and one in Northern California. “BOEM also seeks to obtain nominations and industry interest in commercial wind energy leases in these Call Areas.”
The Northern California area is off Humboldt County but has issues, such as no readily available access to the state power grid. That means if that area is developed, the company will have to also build high voltage transmission lines to connect with the power
grid, an expensive and time consuming undertaking. The local areas are off Point Buchon and offshore from San Simeon. The Pt. Buchon Call Area would feed energy into the power grid by coming ashore at Diablo Canyon, which is slated to close permanently in 2025.
The San Simeon Call Area, which would be about 34 miles offshore, came about through negotiations with the U.S. Navy and Castle Winds — a partnership between Trident Winds and Originally, Trident had approached the Federal Government about putting in a wind farm about 22-miles offshore from Cayucos and bringing the energy onshore at the Morro Bay Power Plant, which has been shuttered since 2014. The Morro Bay plant has a PG&E substation on the property, providing easy access to the power grid. But the Navy nixed the Cayucos location because it is within an exclusion area the Navy claims as part of a training flight area for the Lemoore Naval Air Station. It was also inside a safety zone set aside for Vandenberg AFB’s space launches. So Trident, through lengthy negotiations with the Navy, came up with a narrow area off San Simeon where a wind farm wouldn’t encroach on its exclusion zone. The site is offshore from Hearst Castle and under certain conditions the towers might be visible from the Castle. Last month, at a public meeting in Morro Bay, Castle Winds representatives said they were still interested in a project offshore of the Central Coast and hoped BOEM and State agencies — who are working together as a task force — would put the leases up for bidding by next summer. Castle Winds has proposed to build a 1,000-megawatt wind farm and have its headquarters and control room in Morro Bay.
An EnBW representative said she would love to use the power plant’s seawater intake building for a control room and one of the plant’s smoke stacks for training and as a radio tower. Offshore wind turbines can be anywhere from 150 to 600-plus feet tall depending on their power output (the more output a turbine has, the longer the fan blades must be and in turn the taller the towers need to be). Offshore wind energy is in its infancy in the U.S. but has been used in Europe for some time. On the U.S. East Coast, there are numerous wind farms being proposed offshore of several states that are in different stages of permitting and development. But there are none on the West Coast.
Near shore Atlantic Ocean waters are much shallower than the Pacific Ocean, which means West Coast wind farms will have to be floating rather than anchored solidly to the seafloor, as they will be on the East Coast. Also, current technology can only produce 4-8 MW turbines, but Castle Winds hopes to have 10 MW turbines available by the time it is ready to proceed with development, in some 5-10 years.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, “BOEM will discuss how the public can comment on the Call, the planning timeline, and additional opportunities for public participation,” the agency said in a news release. “BOEM will provide a demonstration of the California Offshore Wind Energy Gateway, a web-based spatial planning tool being used by BOEM and the State of California to collect and share information on offshore uses and resources to inform decision making. “In addition, the public will have the opportunity to provide input and ask questions of State agency representatives and other BOEM California Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force members.”
The task force includes representatives of the Coastal Commission and Energy Commission, both of which will have to sign off on any development of offshore wind farms.
More information on the Task Force can be found at: www.boem.gov/California.