WASHINGTON – The federal government said Tuesday it had cleared an important hurdle in opening the central California coast to offshore wind farms. This is part of President Biden’s aggressive plan to expand renewable energy and move the nation away from fossil fuels.
The idea of building wind farms along the Pacific coast was discussed for a long time, but was often dismissed as being logistically too complicated. The particularly deep seabed makes it difficult to build the platforms necessary to house the turbines, and the Navy has repeatedly objected to anything that could affect its training and operations along the coast.
But the Department of Defense teamed up with the Department of the Interior on Wednesday to support a plan that would allow commercial offshore wind farms in a 399 square mile area in Morro Bay along central California and another area off the coast of Humboldt in northern California.
“This is a breakthrough that enables the location of offshore winds in the Pacific,” said Gina McCarthy, the White House climate adviser.
It is a milestone for California, which is committed to renewable energies and has experienced the effects of climate change like hardly any other state. Forest fires raged last summer and the highest temperature ever recorded was 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. Sea levels are rising, coasts are eroding and drought is increasing.
Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, described the move as “historic”.
“Developing offshore wind power to produce clean, renewable energy could make a big difference in meeting California’s clean energy goals and tackling climate change – while strengthening the economy and creating new jobs,” said Newsom, who regularly visits the Trump administration contested California’s attempts to reduce fossil fuel pollution but found an ally in President Biden.
The announcement came weeks after the Biden government approved the country’s first commercial offshore wind farm to be built off the coast of Massachusetts. Around a dozen other offshore wind projects along the east coast are currently being examined by the federal government.
The government estimates that wind turbines in Morro Bay and near Humboldt combined could generate enough electricity to supply 1.6 million households with electricity.
If these claims are materialized, it could turn the California coast into one of the largest wind power generators in the world. The new wind farm on the Massachusetts coast is expected to have up to 84 giant wind turbines. By comparison, Newsom estimated that the California sites could accommodate more than 300 turbines.
Administrative officials declined to say when these areas could be rented out to businesses. Home Secretary Deb Haaland was asked to provide a timetable for offshore wind development in California. He said, “This is a priority for us and we appreciate it.”
Mr Newsom said he had heard of potential developers. “We not only had international companies but also governments turning to us,” he said. “We expect enormous interest.”
The steps come as Mr Biden pledged to cut the country’s fossil fuel emissions by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 by advancing measures to encourage the use of electric vehicles and clean energy such as wind and solar. In particular, the government has pledged to build 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the US by 2030.
While the Obama administration hoped to bring offshore wind farms to California, it was never able to sell leases to commercial companies to build turbines there.
In 2018, the Trump administration took the first steps to allow companies to lease water bodies in central and northern California for wind projects when the Department of the Interior identified three areas for lease agreements, including the waters of Morro Bay and Humboldt Counties. But after Pentagon officials objected, the plan took off.
Mr Biden has tried to unite his cabinet to find ways to promote renewable energy and reduce carbon pollution.
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of state, told reporters on a call to the White House, “Tackling the climate crisis is a national security imperative and the Department of Defense is proud to have played a role in this important effort. The Department of Defense is committed to seeking solutions across the US government that support renewable energy in a way that is compatible with essential military operations. “
Offshore wind development will almost certainly not be without conflict. Development along the California coast has long been a sensitive and highly regulated issue. The fishing industry fears that the turbines are detrimental to their livelihoods and the potential impact on birds, fisheries and marine mammals is being studied carefully.