Offshore wind farms coming to California — but the Navy says no to large sections of the coast

Floating offshore wind turbines near the coast of Scotland. Offshore wind energy is coming to California but the military is opposed to placing wind farms in areas that it believes could interfere with training, operations and readiness. (Photo of Hywind project by Statoil) Fans of renewable energy anticipate a bonanza blowing off the coast of California.

But a map released by the U.S. Navy puts large swaths of the state off limits to future offshore wind farms — including all of San Diego and Los Angeles, extending up to the Central Coast.

The military does not have the final say in the matter, as federal and state officials — as well as wind energy companies and at least one member of Congress — are working with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a more flexible plan.

But the back-and-forth adds an extra layer of complexity to the nascent industry on the West Coast, where geographic features make it harder to construct wind farms in the Pacific than those on the East Coast.

“There’s a lot at stake here” for California to meet its ambitious clean energy goals, said Robert Collier , a policy analyst at the Green Energy Program at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education . “California is going to need a lot more renewable energy from all sources. Offshore wind is not the only potential solution, but it is part of a multi-pronged strategy.”

Why offshore wind must float on the West Coast

The sight of wind turbines anchored into the ground, their blades turning like giant pinwheels, has become more common in recent years.

But it’s rare to see a wind farm looming over open water — at least in the United States. European companies with projects in places like Denmark and Scotland have taken the early lead in offshore wind energy.

The first commercial offshore wind facility in the U.S. was launched in December 2016 — the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island — and more are in the works .

In the Atlantic, offshore wind turbines can be bolted into the seabed in relatively shallow water.

But the continental shelf off the coast of the Pacific plunges quickly and steeply. That leaves developers with just one option — floating wind farms tethered , or moored, by cables to the ocean floor that don’t penetrate the surface. Electricity from the turbines is transmitted to a floating substation and carried to a power plant onshore via a buried cable.

It’s estimated that nearly a terrawatt of electricity will be generated off the coast of California, 13 times more capacity than all the land-based wind farms across the country generate.

But in the past year, some of the lofty expectations have been tempered.Two years ago, a Seattle-based company called Trident Winds filed an unsolicited lease request to build a floating wind project 33 nautical miles off the coast of Morro Bay near San Luis Obispo. Since then, Norwegian energy giant Statoil has also expressed interest .At the request of Gov. Jerry […]

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