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Biden Administration OKs California Push for Offshore Wind Farms

The feds have committed to leasing a 400-square-mile site off California's Central Coast for the development of floating wind farms to aid the state's push for 100% renewable electricity.

(CN) --- Aiding the Golden State’s ambitious quest for a 100% green energy grid, the Biden administration on Tuesday gave the nod to a planned armada of floating offshore wind farms off California’s coast.

In the federal government’s latest show of support for the fledgling source of renewable energy, the Biden administration says it will clear the path for new wind farms off the rocky Central California coastline. Supporters argue tapping into the unused energy source will provide thousands of high-paying jobs and create a stable source of electricity for more than 1.6 million California homes.

Officials cast Tuesday’s announcement as an extension of Biden’s promise to shift the country away from oil and coal and fight climate change. This month, federal officials gave final approval to a new project off the coast of Massachusetts.

“I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement. “Today’s announcement reflects months of active engagement and dedication between partners who are committed to advancing a clean energy future.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom called offshore wind a potential “game changer” that promises to help the state meet its goal of attaining 100% of its energy from renewables by 2050.

“This historic announcement…represents the innovative approach we need for a clean energy economy that protects the coasts, fisheries, marine life and tribal, cultural resources we value so much as Californians,” the Democratic governor added in a statement.

Under the plan, the Biden administration will partner with the state and private sector to develop floating wind farms throughout a nearly 400-square-mile stretch near Morro Bay. It says it will help clear regulatory hurdles and greenlight locations that won’t interfere with military operations.

The agreement between the feds and state calls for a lease sale of an area located 20 to 30 miles off the Central California coast, with another lease site planned in Northern California near Humboldt County. The parties say the developments could produce up to 4.6 gigawatts of electricity over the next decade --- enough to supply 1.6 million homes --- with minimal environmental impact.  

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will oversee the auctions which could begin as early as 2022.

With an unsatiable demand for electricity and over 800 miles of coastline, proponents say the Golden State is the perfect site for the technology already deployed on the East Coast and in Europe.  

For decades California has been a key producer of wind energy, generating nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) in 2019 --- the fifth most of any state. But unlike some of the other major producers on the East Coast, its wind energy haul is wholly land-based.

Though California has over 800 miles of steep coastline, traditional offshore wind technologies aren’t feasible due the immense depths of the Pacific Ocean. The solution, proponents say, is moving away from fixed-bottom turbines in favor of an army of floating ones.

The floating option would involve cabling or mooring the turbines to an underwater platform hundreds of feet underwater and allow generation to occur above submarine basins such as the Monterey Canyon.

Once the infrastructure is installed, experts say California would be ready to cash in on an endless source of clean energy.   

Researchers with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated the state could realize up to 200,000 MW of energy off its shores. For comparison, the Biden administration recently announced a goal of 30,000 MW — enough to power 10 million homes for a year — by 2030.

State Assemblyman David Chiu, who is pushing a proposal that would require state regulators to develop strategies to implement offshore wind farms, applauded Biden’s decision to reserve space for wind turbines.

“I’m thrilled that offshore wind is officially coming to the West Coast,” said Chiu, D-San Francisco. “I am deeply appreciative of the Biden and Newsom administrations for working out the complicated details to get state and federal agencies on the same page. That work has not been easy.”

Chiu’s proposal, Assembly Bill 525, has received bipartisan support and is awaiting a floor vote in the Assembly. Meanwhile Newsom included $20 million in his latest budget proposal to study and speed up the development of offshore wind technology.

Though the feds and state are now securely behind the idea, offshore wind developments could be held up by litigation or California’s notoriously lengthy environmental review process. But some of the nation’s most influential environmental groups have signed on as sponsors to Chiu’s legislation, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.

While past attempts to bring offshore wind to California stalled in part due to opposition from the military, the Department of Defense has had a change of heart under Biden. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl added the department is committed to working with the state to ensure offshore winds farms don’t interfere with military operations.

“The Defense Department applauds this step and looks forward to continued coordination to address the climate crisis,” he said in a statement.

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