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California Adopts Offshore Wind Target and Calls for ‘Significant’ Grid Investments

Posted on August 24, 2022

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request to the California Energy Commission (CEC) to shoot for more “ambitious” climate goals, the regulator last week adopted a planning goal to develop 25 GW of offshore wind by 2045.

In its latest report, Offshore Wind Energy Development off the California Coast, CEC said that the “preliminary planning goals are designed to be potentially achievable but aspirational and are established at levels that can contribute significantly to achieving California’s climate goals.”

The move is the result of requirements set by Assembly Bill 525 (AB 525), which was signed by Newsom in September requiring the CEC to set a target for offshore wind development..

Regulators said the state should first aim to develop 2-5 GW of capacity by 2030. The Humboldt Bay wind energy area (WEA) offshore Northern California, and the Morro Bay WEA further south, could support 4.5-8 GW of offshore wind generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The CEC said it expects the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to hold lease sales for the two WEAs this fall.

The commission earlier this year approved a $10.5 million grant to convert the Port of Humboldt Bay to an offshore wind terminal, The conversion is designed to support manufacturing and infrastructure to construct 1.6 GW of generation.

Achieving the CEC’s 2045 target, however, would require more planning, as well as developing areas that have not undergone full assessments by BOEM.

For example, NREL studied the coastal waters of Del Norte, north of the Humboldt WEA, as well as Cape Mendocino, south of Humboldt. Both could be key areas to develop offshore wind, according to CEC’s report. Thus far, however, BOEM has not designated Del Norte or Cape Mendocino as call areas, or potential WEAs.

In addition, BOEM in 2018 identified the Diablo Canyon call area –about 20 nautical miles (nm) from the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the state’s last nuclear power plant –  as integral to the goal of build more than 20 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2045.

Together, the five areas studied by NREL, or already identified by BOEM, amount to about 21.8 GW of “technically feasible” offshore wind capacity, CEC said. That is more than 3 GW below the CEC’s stated target.

The commission also noted that California’s waters, with an estimated 201 GW of gross resource potential, have some of the greatest potential in the United States for offshore wind development. CEC said the region could play a substantial role in achieving the Biden administration’s goal of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

A CEC spokesperson told NGI that, “as required by AB 525, CEC staff are currently conducting a sea space analysis to identify additional opportunities for suitable sea space to accommodate the offshore wind planning goals.”

Surging Transmission Demand

In its report, the commission underscored the need for the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) to consider the effect of substantial additions of offshore wind generation on the state’s grid.

In May, CAISO published its first 20-Year Transmission Outlook, in which it took into consideration the transmission upgrades required to achieve California’s clean energy goals, including offshore wind generation.

Compared with central California’s Diablo or Morro WEA, which could cost about $110 million to connect 6 GW of offshore wind generation to the larger grid, interconnection for 4 GW of generation from the Humboldt Bay WEA could cost $5.8-$8 billion, according to CAISO’s report.

Northern California, which hosts some of the state’s most optimal wind conditions for “consistent and favorable” generation, is, however, “relatively isolated” from California’s bulk grid, CEC said.

According to CEC, analyses for a  2.3 GW Morro Bay WEA showed that CAISO would also need to construct a new 500 kV substation. The commission noted that wind generation in Central California would benefit from existing infrastructure, such as transmission currently used for the Diablo nuclear power plant.

Delaying Diablo Canyon’s Retirement

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which began operating in the mid-1980s, was scheduled to be decommissioned by 2025. However, Newsom may extend the life of the plant by up to 10 years. California lawmakers are expected to come to a decision on the extension before the legislative session ends this month.

During a recent Diablo Canyon Extension Workshop by the CEC, Newsom’s Cabinet Secretary Ana Matosantos said the potential extension would be “a last resort…in looking at every tool that is available to ensure that we maintain reliability in the course of our clean transition, what can physically happen, be counted on and be interconnected to the grid in time to address our needs to meet that reliability.”

Assessments on the energy provided by new renewables conducted by “energy agencies today have us short, and in light of where we are, we think it is really critical that we have this conversation around the possibility of extending these resources. From our perspective, any extension needs to be as short as possible.”

The Diablo Canyon Power Plant generates about 18,000 GWh a year of electricity, or almost 10% of the state’s energy portfolio, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which owns and operates the plant.

Matosantos, noting what affected the state’s decision to potentially extend the life of the nuclear facility, said “demand is rising based on the impacts associated with heat, and our transition to things that require higher electricity consumption, like our move to electric vehicles, is also moving faster.

“We previously used to plan for the high point. And we are now doing more planning for our peak, as well as when solar is coming offline,” Matosantos said. “The net of all these pieces is that we are behind where we need to be in bringing these resources online to ensure that we can retire these resources.”


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