Offshore Wind in California
The 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018 (SB 100, De León, Chapter 321, Statutes of 2018) increased California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal to 60 percent by 2030 and requires RPS-eligible resources and zero-carbon resources to supply 100 percent of California’s electricity retail sales and electricity procured to serve state agencies by 2045. California has some of the best offshore wind resources in the country and floating offshore wind is emerging as a promising source of renewable energy generation for the state. In addition to providing renewable energy, development of floating offshore wind energy in California will diversify the state’s energy portfolio and provide an opportunity for good paying jobs and statewide economic benefits.
Offshore wind energy technologies have been deployed in Europe and Asia and are under active development on the East Coast of the United States. To date, most offshore wind energy projects utilize fixed bottom foundations which are more suitable for shallow waters. The deep waters of the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf off California’s coast will require offshore wind turbines installed on floating platforms anchored to the seabed. While the global floating offshore wind market is still in early stages of development, the technology is projected to quickly advance, and California is well positioned to be a leader in the floating offshore wind market.
There are many factors and values to balance when planning for the development of floating offshore wind, including environmental, cultural, socioeconomic, regulatory, and economic considerations. California is home to one of the most diverse coastal and ocean ecosystems in the world, with over 1,100 miles of coastline, and the protection of coastal and ocean resources remains an important value. California is prioritizing actions and approaches to balance the advancement of a floating offshore wind industry and preservation of the unique and diverse ecosystems off the coast.
The California Energy Commission (CEC) is engaged in a range of initiatives to better understand the opportunities and actions for deploying floating offshore wind responsibly off the coast of California, including the creation of the California Offshore Wind Energy Gateway. The CEC is also actively collaborating with state agencies, including:
- California Coastal Commission (CCC): implements the California Coastal Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act. The California Coastal Act requires Commission review and authorization of all development within California’s Coastal Zone. The Coastal Zone Management Act provides for Commission review of federal activities or permits outside of the coastal zone, including offshore wind projects, that could have an effect on California’s coastal resources.
- Ocean Protection Council (OPC): advises the governor and legislature on ocean and coastal issues and supports assessing the impacts of offshore wind to marine life, fisheries, tribal and cultural resources, and local economies. OPC’s Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean 2020-2025 includes a goal to support sustainable commercial offshore wind development.
- California State Lands Commission (CSLC): manages lands owned by the State, including navigable waterways and submerged lands up to three nautical miles offshore. CSLC considers applications for leases to use State lands, such as applications for offshore wind development in state waters.
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW): has jurisdiction over conservation, protection and management of fish, wildlife, native plants, and habitats necessary for biologically sustainable populations of the species. CDFW is also responsible for marine biodiversity protection in California’s coastal marine waters.
- California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC): authorizes electric utility rates and procurement and conducts integrated resource planning to ensure development of the generation, energy storage and transmission resources needed to achieve the state’s goal of 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045 in a cost-effective manner.
- Office of Planning and Research (OPR): studies future research and planning needs with a focus on addressing climate risk, resilience, and economic development.
In September 2021, the California Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, Assembly Bill (AB) 525 (Chiu, Chapter 231, Statutes of 2021) requiring the CEC, in coordination with the California Coastal Commission, the Ocean Protection Council, the State Lands Commission, the Office of Planning and Research, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the California Independent System Operator, and the Public Utilities Commission, and other relevant federal, state, and local agencies as needed, to develop a strategic plan for offshore wind energy developments installed off the California coast in federal waters, and submit it to the California Natural Resources Agency and the Legislature by no later than June 30, 2023.
AB 525 requires the CEC to evaluate and quantify the maximum feasible offshore wind capacity to achieve reliability, ratepayer, employment, and decarbonization benefits and to establish offshore wind energy planning goals for 2030 and 2045, by no later than June 1, 2022.
The CEC must include the following five chapters in the strategic plan due June 30, 2023:
- Identification of sea space;
- Economic and workforce development and identification of port space and infrastructure;
- Transmission planning;
- Permitting; and
- Potential impacts on coastal resources, fisheries, Native American and Indigenous peoples, and national defense, and strategies for addressing those potential impacts.
By December 31, 2022, AB 525 requires the CEC to 1) submit to the Natural Resources Agency and the relevant fiscal and policy committees of the Legislature a preliminary assessment of the economic benefits of offshore wind as they relate to seaport investments and workforce development needs and standards and 2) a permitting roadmap to the California Natural Resources Agency and legislative committees for a coordinated, comprehensive, and efficient permitting process for floating offshore wind energy development and associated infrastructure. In developing the permitting roadmap the CEC will consult and meaningfully collaborate with all relevant local, state, and federal agencies, interested California Native American tribes, and affected stakeholders, as specified in AB 525.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for overseeing renewable energy development in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Floating offshore wind energy projects are complex and will require close coordination between BOEM, the State of California, and other federal and local agencies and tribal governments. To help facilitate this coordination, the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force (Task Force) was established in 2016. The Task Force, which includes representatives from federal, state, local, and federally tribal governments, work together to identify opportunities for renewable energy leasing and development off the coast of California. Through coordination with the Task Force, and an extensive stakeholder outreach and engagement process (Outreach Summary Report, 2018 and Outreach Summary Report Addendum, 2021), BOEM is moving forward with further environmental review for leasing two areas, one off the north coast and one off the central coast, for additional evaluation of floating offshore wind development. These areas, referred to as the Humboldt Wind Energy Area and the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area, have the combined potential to generate up to 4.6 gigawatts of renewable energy. For more information on BOEM’s recent California offshore wind activities, please visit BOEM’s California Activities website.
The CEC’s Electric Program Investment Charge Program, or EPIC, funds research leading to technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs supporting California’s clean energy goals, with a focus on providing ratepayer benefits, including reliability, lower costs, and safety. While floating offshore wind has yet to be launched in California, additional technological innovation and optimization can help propel the market and bring affordable and clean electricity to California’s communities.
In addition to offshore wind energy, marine hydrokinetic technologies can capture wave energy as another potential source of renewable generation. Much like floating offshore wind, marine hydrokinetics is an emerging technology with limited demonstrations to date. The U.S. Department of Energy is investing in research to support the design, testing, development and demonstration, of marine hydrokinetic technologies.