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The debate over offshore wind power continues to divide the Central Coast

Posted on October 19, 2023

California sees wind energy as essential to helping the state reach its ambitious climate goals. Critics say the development could industrialize our local waters. To harness this resource, energy companies are geared up to install huge floating wind farms off the state’s coast. Some of the first of these farms will be off the shores of Morro Bay and Santa Barbara.

KCBX’s Gabriela Fernandez spoke with CalMatters environment reporter, Julie Cart, whose been looking into how these efforts might impact our communities here on the Central Coast.

Gabriela Fernandez: Julie, many Central Coast residents have already been pushing back on these offshore wind efforts. What are they most worried about?

Julie Cart, CalMatters’ environment reporter: I think from the people I talked to — both residents and officials in your region, the biggest question they have [has] to do with the unknowns. There’s so little known about this technology — floating offshore wind. There’s plenty of offshore wind farms in around the country and also around the world, [but] they’re fixed to the bottom. California’s coast has such a steep drop off and to get to where the wind is they have to go 20, 40, 60 miles out to sea, so you can’t have platforms that are affixed to the bottom.

So they’re floating, they’ve never been at this distance from the shore, and they’ve never been installed at this depth.

And of course, how these developments interact with Marine life, birds, and then on the terrestrial side, what needs to be done on the land side to, to bring all of the power to shore? So it’s, a lot is not known and that’s, that’s really the big question mark.

Gabriela Fernandez: Okay, those are some of the potential downsides. What could our region and the state gain from these farms?

Julie Cart: Well, there’s a there’s a bit that’s unknown about that, or I should just say that there’s a range of anticipated benefits. There most certainly will be some employment benefits. There’s a whole industry that has to be stood up to manufacture the parts, to assemble them at the ports. To float these things out to sea they have to be towed around on tugs. There’s a lot of very, very specialized work.

The Board of Supervisors in San Luis Obispo County identified as many as 12,000 jobs. I think that’s very optimistic, but there certainly will be jobs along the entire supply line. There’ll be people coming in, so there’ll be rentals. People buying homes, you know, all the trickle down that you get when you have a brand new piece of your economy. So, that’s what people are looking forward to.

Gabriela Fernandez: What – if anything – can residents influence at this point about the way these projects are handled? Is the setup a done deal?

Julie Cart: No, it’s not a done deal. It’s certainly in motion and there’s very little doubt that both on the state side and the federal side that these projects harnessing this green power is very important. So everyone’s going to do what they can to get it done, in the least damaging way as possible — or at least mitigate if you think there’s issues. I talked to people who were filling out petitions, and you know, there’s a lot of public comment opportunity, both through your local government, through the Board of Supervisors cities, but also through the federal government. It’s a kind of a clunky name, it’s the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. That’s called BOEM. They have public comment periods, with state agencies like the State Lands Commission, the Coastal Commission. There’s hearings on this stuff all the time because the permitting is not final. So it’s still a lot of time to have your voice heard or to kind of weigh in on what you would like to see.

Gabriela Fernandez: When can we expect construction to start?

It’s a sliding scale, as with everything with these projects. Each wind farm, I mean, it could cost up to five billion. I mean, they are very, very expensive. It’s a huge investment. So they’re taking their time to survey, to do site surveys, environmental surveys, understanding how they might put their technology in because there’s different kinds of these things.

Everyone has a different idea of how it’s done best. So that process, yes. From kind of start to beginning construction and going through permitting could be five years. But what the State of California is trying to do is run all of the things in tandem. What you don’t want to do is have a developer say, here’s what I want, here’s our plan, and then start a brand new environmental assessment and start all these things. So they’re trying to piggyback as much as possible and concurrently do these reviews so that when a permit is issued. They can just get going.


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