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Offshore wind success in California requires developers, policymakers embrace ‘ocean justice’

Posted on January 3, 2024

It’s been a tough time for the offshore wind industry. High inflation, rising interest rates and supply chain disruptions forced developers to cancel projects across the East Coast that would have provided over 5,000 megawatts of renewable capacity to the grid.

Luckily, California has time on its side. Floating turbine technology is years away from being ready to install off of our deepwater coastlines. By then, the current headwinds forcing developers to scrap projects will shift, giving the industry another chance at success in California.

True success will require California policymakers and developers to orient offshore wind deployment on the principles of ocean justice, starting now. For offshore wind, this means building projects that are justly and responsibly sourced, sited and operated to protect ocean health and deliver community benefits.

California has some of the best offshore wind potential in the country. With these principles, our state can learn from the East Coast and deploy an offshore wind strategy that benefits everyone. This will require deep collaboration, robust community benefits and huge investments that avoid piling energy costs onto overburdened ratepayers.

For offshore wind in tribal lands and waters, Indigenous peoples should have the right to provide free, prior and informed consent and to co-manage projects. Tribes, community groups and local governments can guarantee clear project benefits with enforceable community benefits agreements, and policymakers can require them when leasing and permitting future projects.

To minimize the impacts on nearby communities, new and upgraded offshore wind ports should install zero-emissions technology. And while no single West Coast state has enough port sites to unlock the full potential of offshore wind energy, California does not need to go it alone.

On the East Coast, offshore wind grew prohibitively expensive, in part because most turbine components are manufactured abroad. When the pandemic disrupted global supply chains, developers in the U.S. faced slowdowns and rising costs. Partnering with Washington and Oregon to develop a domestic supply chain, as a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report suggested, would create local jobs, reduce vessel emissions by 40% and lower our dependence on foreign imports.

Offshore wind developers already paid $757.1 million to lease waters off California’s coastline. Building these wind farms and the necessary infrastructure to support them will cost billions, and the cost per kilowatt-hour has risen steeply in the past few years. New York recently denied requests from Equinor, Ørsted, and BP to increase payments for offshore wind farms because customer rates would have risen 6.7%.

In California, the average price of residential electricity is even higher than in New York. California policymakers must figure out how to finance renewable ocean energy at scale while protecting customers from skyrocketing electricity rates.

Some policymakers are already taking the hint. Last month, the Biden administration announced its first-ever Ocean Justice Strategy. The Bureau of Ocean Management should align with this new strategy when conducting its regional environmental review of California’s future offshore wind sites.

The California Energy Commission will soon finalize a strategic roadmap for offshore wind development. Meanwhile, a suite of new laws focus on central procurementpermitting and helping address gaps in the supply chain and workforce. Crucially, these laws seek to minimize and mitigate impacts to marine habitat and fisheries, and maximize in-state job opportunities for lower-income and disproportionately affected communities.

Look past the gloomy headlines, and you’ll see hope for offshore wind in California. It can start in 2024, if policymakers and offshore wind developers commit to the principles of ocean justice. The work that remains and these telling signs of progress show that offshore wind can succeed – the right way – in California.


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