About 17 miles off Morro Bay, the US government plans to lease an area just smaller than Hong Kong to wind power companies to create more electricity than the 2,200 megawatt Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Although the ocean may seem vast and unfathomable, the proposal has already identified that commercial vessels and the US Navy are active within the 376 square mile area — a fact that required negotiation with the Secretary of the Navy. It also set off alarm bells for fishermen in Santa Barbara and nearby ports.
Turbines harnessing the wind grow larger each year, with the most powerful reaching the height of the Statue of Liberty with a span of two and a half football fields. They are tested in Denmark and the Netherlands, rated to generate 15 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 18,000 European homes. The “sweep” of the turbine blades encompasses an area equal to the size of Dwight Murphy Field, or 10 vertical acres in the sky.
The first of several environmental assessments in the United States is being conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). So far, no leases have been sold. Another series of studies will be carried out after the rental by several companies, which will use buoys to determine weather and wind conditions, as well as to carry out bathymetric studies (underwater topography) as the floating turbine construction projects giantes continue in the development and approval process. including environmental studies.
Congressman Salud Carbajal, a vocal proponent of the Morro Bay offshore wind project, brokered a deal with Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite when conflicting uses threatened to scuttle the project in 2020. The Navy discovered that the operations of wind farms in federal waters could affect aircraft systems and training readiness. for overseas deployments.
Although Carbajal persuaded the Navy of the importance of wind power for the west coast, Braithwaite said the risk for training missions was ‘acceptable’ as long as there was a moratorium on other parks wind farms in areas of military operations. Carbajal called it a victory, saying, “Offshore wind holds huge promise as a means of tackling climate change while creating economic opportunity, and the central coast is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits.” In total, the wind is expected to generate 2,924 megawatts, enough to power more than one million homes.
California state waters two and a half miles from Vandenberg Space Force Base will be the proving ground for several wind platforms. The area is notoriously windy; more than 50 wrecks lie beneath the waves, including the seven destroyers that veered off course in heavy fog in 1923 and ran aground at Point Honda, killing 23 sailors.
Two companies applied for permits from the State Lands Commission to moor four platforms each, interconnected by cables, and a power cable carrying electricity ashore to substations on the base. Cierco Projects Corporation’s CADEMO project of Palm Springs, which sits off Point Honda, proposes to test two rig designs for 12 to 15 megawatt turbines. Ideol USA, owned by a French company that has been floating wind turbines off the French coast since 2018, plans to install and then decommission floating barges containing 10-megawatt turbines moored to the seabed off Point Arguello.
The Vandenberg projects are in about 300 feet of water, said Chris Voss, president of the Santa Barbara Commercial Fishermen, and the federal leases are in waters 3,000 to 4,200 feet deep. “We wonder how these things are designed,” Voss said of the floating islands. “As a group, because of our experience on the water, we recognize that the ocean can be incredibly violent and dangerous. If one escaped, would they end up in another? These things are gigantic, absolutely huge.
The integrity of the structures and their anchorage to the seabed on California’s outer continental shelf are not the only concerns of the fishing collectives of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura. They closely monitor all wind developments for potential effects on their industry. On the one hand, they predict that the cables anchoring each floating turbine and connecting them to each other will pose problems for the fleet. A staging area between them would be needed, Voss said.
“We are also seriously concerned about the environmental impacts,” Voss added. Fishermen fear that wind turbines capture the wind in a way that disrupts coastal upwelling. “It’s the natural dynamics that create the nutrient-rich water that feeds the food chain,” Voss explained. “We have to get rid of the carbon,” he said, “no discussion. We understand that. Our argument is that it must be done in a methodical and organized way. Voss worried that President Biden’s proposal to add 30,000 megawatts of offshore power by 2030 would push the limits of understudied technology for the deep waters of Morro Bay projects.
Fishermen expect to lose fishing grounds where they had caught halibut, sablefish, spot prawn, salmon, sea cucumber, Dungeness crab and other fish through various methods. And they expect to be compensated, as they were when offshore data cables from across the Pacific entered San Luis Obispo County, rendering parts of the seabed off-limits and congesting Morro Harbor. Bay of ships and barges to service the facility.
A lot of money is involved here, just like it was when offshore oil leases were sold off in the 1950s. “Wind energy companies just gave the federal government $4.2 billion for leases on the East Coast,” Voss said, predicting, “It’s going to be a long process.”
The comment period on the federal lease plan has been extended to May 16, and BOEM expects the first lease analyzes to be completed in 2023. To learn more or comment on the draft, visit boem.gov and search for “Morro Bay Wind”.
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