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Feds to hold California offshore wind energy lease sale in December

The upcoming lease sale in California will be for five outer continental shelf areas totaling 373,000 acres.

(CN) — The U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced a West Coast first: an offshore wind energy lease sale in December for areas along the central and northern coasts of California.

The sale also marks the first U.S. sale to support potential commercial scale floating offshore wind energy development. It's also critical to the Biden administration’s goals of achieving 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy by 2035.

California has similar goals for developing offshore wind capacity up to five gigawatts by 2030 and 25 gigawatts by 2045, even as the state deals with electricity shortages and unemployment.

“California could not have better partners in our march toward a clean energy future than the Biden-Harris administration,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “Together, we’re fighting for energy independence and a future free of fossil fuels and full of clean energy sources like offshore wind.”

In 2018, lawmakers and then-Governor Jerry Brown approved legislation that required utilities to obtain all of their electricity from renewable resources by 2045. Then in September 2021, the Assembly unanimously approved a proposal committing California to building the infrastructure and securing permits needed to bring the offshore wind industry fully online by the same time.

But while California has been busy navigating its own commitments to clean energy, the White House has wasted no time pursuing wind power projects. On the same day as announcing California’s offshore wine energy lease, the Department of Energy announced its intent to use $30 million from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law to fund research and development projects to lower costs for wind energy projects on and offshore across the country.

The upcoming lease sale in the West comes after two years of large-scale projects up and down the Atlantic coast, one in which energy companies bid a record $4.37 billion for wind power leases on 488,00 acres — the largest in the nation. Altogether, Interior reports that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has held 10 competitive lease sales and issued 27 active commercial wind leases in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

The bureau’s upcoming lease sale in California will be for five outer continental shelf areas — three on the Central Coast and two in Northern California — totaling 373,000 acres and with the potential to produce over 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, power more than 1.5 million homes and support thousands of jobs.

“The demand and momentum to build a clean energy future is undeniable,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement, adding: “Today, we are taking another step toward unlocking the immense offshore wind energy potential off our nation’s west coast to help combat the effects of climate change while lowering costs for American families and creating good-paying union jobs.”

According to the bureau's director Amanda Lefton, the announcement represents years of close coordination with the state, tribes, fisheries and local communities, some of which were hesitant to jump on board the administration’s energy goals.

This past April, commercial fisherman voiced their concerns about California’s plans for offshore wind turbines, particularly those off the coast of Eureka which is considered prime fishing real estate. The administration faced similar backlash after clearing offshore wind construction for Vineyard Wind in Massachusetts and South For Wind off the coast of Rhode Island over the lack of mitigation measures recommended by fishery professionals, scientists and natural resource managers.

Energy experts are weary of the massive land sell as well.

“I would suggest that it's probably wiser to do a couple of smaller projects first before going on for the massive land sale,” Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, said regarding the novelty of deep offshore wind energy and the cost of development versus how much power is actually brought in.

“It's going to be more expensive to build because it's floating production,” Smith said in a phone interview. “You technically can't install bottom-founded monopile type structures in the areas where the federal government is attempting to set up these leases. So, you need floating structures which tend to be bigger, heavier and more expensive. And you have a profound lack of onshore bases near deep water to be able to provide that infrastructure. So, I think it could be very challenging to actually accomplish.”

As such, Interior says it used its 60-day comment period after the proposed sale notice this past May to create lease stipulations addressing community concerns, such as providing bidding credits for those who join community benefit agreements or invest in workforce training or supply chain development. Additionally, the leases require winning bidders to make efforts to join project labor agreements and engage with tribes, underserved communities, fishing communities and other agencies.

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