The waters off the Californian coast could become vital in the fight against climate change. Last week, President Joe Biden announced an ambitious plan to open 250,000 acres of the state’s coastal waters to wind development. If only it could be done faster.
According to the plan, wind projects could be built in federal waters northwest of Morro Bay and west of Humboldt Bay. In a decade, hundreds of huge floating turbines anchored to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean by cables could generate 4,600 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1.6 million homes.
These developments would be the largest projects ever proposed in the United States, eclipsing the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project planned off Massachusetts and the 1,100-megawatt Ocean Wind project proposed for the New Jersey coast.
But there are significant hurdles, and the most practical – like how to anchor the turbines to the deep bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a way that minimizes environmental damage – might be the least. Scientists and engineers are able to overcome these kinds of challenges. Many politicians, activists and people living along the shore want to create even more problems.
Lawsuits by environmental groups are a virtual certainty if state and federal regulators do not fully investigate and address the potential effects on wildlife. Maybe even if they do.
The challenges could also come from the military. It wouldn’t be the first time the Defense Ministry has raised objections to offshore wind projects, warning they could interfere with military operations and movements.
Homeowners along the coast could take legal action to prevent the project as they believe it will spoil their beautiful views. We have little sympathy for a position that is not only selfish but also self-defeating. If California and the world do not take such action to address climate change, the view will be the least of concern for coastal landowners battered by rising seas and increasingly violent storms. In addition, the turbines would be built about 20 miles offshore.
Any project would have to overcome a multitude of regulatory hurdles.
Put it all together, and Biden’s announcement might not lead to real electricity for a decade or more. That’s too long for a state that could benefit from the jobs and investments of such a large infrastructure project, and for a world that desperately needs additional sources of clean energy.
Governor Gavin Newsom has taken steps to overcome some of the obstacles. He offered to fund new environmental science positions in state agencies to analyze the proposals and expedite regulatory review. He also wants to finance port improvements at Humboldt Bay to support offshore wind development.
It’s a beginning. The governor and lawmakers should then look for ways to streamline approvals by state agencies. They shouldn’t be doing away with important environmental reviews, but surely there are opportunities to get things done faster and to speed up court challenges.
The massive wind farms could help California meet its ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets, replacing electricity produced by coal, gas and other fossil fuels. While there is no guarantee that the electricity produced will go to California, it will go somewhere where people pay for cleaner energy.
Coastal wind power will be an important step towards a better and more sustainable future for the nation and the world. The earliest would be best.
You can send letters to the editor at [email protected]