The state and federal government set ambitious goals for developing renewable energy— like Humboldt County’s offshore wind project — but how quickly that development materializes locally is a matter of debate.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published a proposed sale notice for five commercial wind energy leases off the coast of California — three off the coast of Morro Bay in Southern California and two off the coast of Humboldt Bay. The combined area up for lease is 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, 1.6 to 1.8 GW of which could come from the North Coast once the Humboldt wind energy area was fully built out.
Norway-based Aker Offshore Wind is interested in developing offshore wind projects in both regions and has been working with both the local community and Morro Bay for four years. Jonah Margulis, senior vice president of Aker Offshore Wind, said there are different challenges in both areas.
“In the north, it’s mainly a transmission challenge,” Margulis said. “In the central, it’s mainly a port challenge.”
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On April 7, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plans for studying marine life in the proposed Humboldt Wind Energy Area, 21 miles west of Humboldt Bay. The Bureau, known as BOEM, plans to hold auctions this summer for offshore wind developers to bid on lease areas in federal waters off Humboldt and Morro Bay. Lessees will then begin “site assessment activities” to better understand potential impacts in these understudied ocean environments. 

The federal government has completed an environmental review for developing a wind project 20 miles off the coast of Humboldt Bay. That review found developing offshore wind will have no significant impact on the environment.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Thursday released the final draft of its environmental assessment, which broadly examines how offshore wind activities in the roughly 207-square-mile Humboldt Wind Energy Area would affect the surroundings. Any specific project that is proposed in the future would still need to undergo its own environmental review.

Update: The Federal Register notice is available HERE. Comments are due Aug. 1, 2022.
 
The federal government has officially announced its intention to sell offshore wind leases off the coast of California for the first time, and the proposed leases include stipulations that prioritize workforce and supply chain development.

On Thursday, the Department of Interior announced it will publish its proposed sale notice for five leases — three leases in the Morro Bay wind energy area and two leases in the Humboldt Bay wind energy area, totaling 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy if fully developed — with the Federal Register on Tuesday. The proposed leases include, among other things, requirements to work with the surrounding tribes and communities to mitigate any adverse impacts as well as incentives to invest in workforce training and enter into community benefit agreements.

“That’s the direction we’ve wanted to go towards for a long time,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, told The Times-Standard. “We’ll learn more as we go, but the community benefit agreement is going to be useful to us as locals to make this project be meaningful and help deliver benefits to Humboldt County.”

“There’s also an opportunity to use community benefits agreements to get commitments for environmental protection at the outset of a project,” Wheeler said. “That means we don’t need to wait and fight projects further down the development process about what sort of mitigation measures they might include.”

“These lease sales are the first step towards the real work of assessing environmental impacts and how to avoid or mitigate them,” Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said in a statement. “Once developers enter into lease agreements, those site assessments will begin and we’ll have a much better understanding of how best to protect wildlife and their habitats as these projects move forward.”

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The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously today to conditionally concur with a federal determination that allowing energy companies and organizations to study a proposed offshore wind farm area on the Humboldt County Coast is consistent with the California Coastal Management Program.

The commission’s vote today does not approve the wind farms or the start of any construction activities — all of which would come back before the commission in the future for further review

Commission staff made clear in its report and presentation that while BOEM believes it is premature to analyze the full scope of environmental impacts of turning a swath of ocean waters off Humboldt Bay into a wind farm, such a transformation is a “reasonably foreseeable” result of today’s vote, so should be considered to the extent possible. Further, commission staff explained this consistency determination was a chance to lay a foundation for the commission’s role in the process moving forward as the state and federal governments continue to push for a more sustainable energy grid.

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