Biden Supercharges CA's Offshore Wind Hopes

Despite having 840 miles of coastline, a combination of engineering challenges, regulatory hurdles, and concerns about turbines' impact on wildlife have prevented offshore wind from flourishing in California's waters. But now, less than a month after approving the nation's first offshore wind project in Massachusetts, the White House announced it has identified an area off California's central coast region that will support 3 gigawatts of offshore wind. In addition, the Biden administration is advancing Humboldt Call Area as a potential Wind Energy Area (WEA),located off northern California. The two areas could generate a combined 4,600 megawatts of clean electricity -- enough to power 1.6 million homes.

Why This Matters

The US has to make significant investments in renewable energy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and experts say that wind power is the most efficient route toward a green energy economy. A USDA report even estimates that the nation's wind energy potential could be double the US's current electricity use.

Yet in California's waters, the Department of Defense had previously opposed offshore wind farms stating that they could interfere with the extensive military training conducted off the coast. This announcement is a story of success on many levels as the Departments of Interior and Defense along with the state of California were able to identify WEAs that Colin Kahl, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said are out of the way of military operations.

Of the cross-governmental announcement, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said:

I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best-available science to make it happen. Today’s announcement reflects months of active engagement and dedication between partners who are committed to advancing a clean energy future.

The Specifics

Since its proposal, a plan to build offshore wind farms in California has been complicated by logistics and US Navy opposition to obstacles in sailing waters. But on Tuesday, the Navy dropped its former position and put its full support behind the Interior Department.

The Worries

Some worry that logistical challenges may remain. Turbines are easiest to build in shallower waters like those off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. The floor of the Pacific Ocean, though, drops steeply from the coastline, making construction much more complicated.

But Newsom assured that with the full might of the federal and state governments and many eager investors, the project will find success, "We expect an enormous amount of interest."

One German company, ENBW, intends to bid on leases to build a floating turbine farm called the Castle Wind project. Both California and the federal government have been working with the company to make a massive floating wind energy region a reality.