A big announcement could see the North Coast open for wind farm bidding next year
After years of anticipation, the prospect of creating a floating wind farm off the coast of Humboldt County, generating clean energy and economic growth, took a significant step forward last week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom joined Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other federal officials to announce an agreement that will allow for the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to offer a lease auction as early as next year for two stretches of California's coastal waters. The first is a 399-mile stretch on the Central Coast northwest of Morro Bay and the second an unspecified site about 20 miles off Humboldt Bay.
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The Biden Administration announced that the U.S. Departments of Interior and Defense have reached agreement on California sea-space and other issues, clearing the way to move ahead with development of the state’s multi-gigawatt (GW) offshore wind power potential on its Central and North coasts.
The announcement comes at a time when California Governor Gavin Newsom has earmarked $11 million to match U.S. Department of Transportation funding to build an offshore wind port at Humboldt Bay in Northern California.
The 1.6 GW of offshore wind farm development projected for Humboldt Bay is restricted by the lack of transmission infrastructure to deliver electricity.
However, wind farms off Humboldt Bay could expand if an offshore transmission line to the San Francisco Bay Area is built. It is estimated that an underwater transmission line system linking Humboldt Bay to the S.F. Bay Area would be over 250 miles long and cost upwards of $3.1 billion, according to a 2020 Humboldt State University report.
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The Port of Humboldt Bay, once a bustling shipping hub for the region’s timber industry, may soon get a wholesale overhaul, complete with modern port facilities designed to support a major offshore wind energy project. Granted, that project doesn’t exist yet. While the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is pursuing a commercial offshore wind lease from the federal government, details for such a major development have yet to be proposed, much less approved.

But on Thursday evening, the Board of Commissioners for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will consider hiring local engineering firm LACO Associates to develop a conceptual master plan for a completely reimagined port — one with a modern, seven-acre dock capable of handling large cargo vessels and assembling offshore wind platforms, turbines and blades.

Of course, the offshore wind energy prospects are still far from reality. Any such developments would be subject to extensive public review. In community meetings held over the past couple of years, plenty of locals have expressed concerns about potential impacts to the environment and the region’s fishing industry. 

Reached Monday, Jennifer Kalt, the executive director of local environmental nonprofit Humboldt Baykeeper, said the Harbor District appears to be looking a ways into the future.

“I would say that this plan will be years in the making,” she told the Outpost. “Early and frequent consultation with various stakeholders, including tribes, commercial fishermen and environmental groups, will be critical for such a major project to succeed.”

Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) says the state must tap into offshore winds to meet its ambitious goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. 

Assembly Bill 525 would require state regulators to set a planning target of at least 10 gigawatts of offshore wind production by 2040, with a short-term goal of 3 GW by 2030. To set the plan in motion, AB 525 also directs state agencies to begin securing necessary federal permits and planning for port upgrades and other infrastructure projects.

According to a recent study by various California regulators, by 2045 the state will need to be able to produce and store at least 140 GW of new renewable energy. It also estimates offshore wind could produce a maximum of 112 GW annually.

Meanwhile data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration pegs California’s 2018 total energy consumption as second highest in the nation, but fourth lowest per capita due to its climate and energy efficiency programs.
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Last month, under intense public pressure, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors rejected the $300 million Humboldt Wind Energy Project, bringing a dramatic end to the most polarizing countywide policy debate this community has seen in years. 

But if anyone thought we could sidestep controversy by moving wind energy proposals from land to sea, well, think again. In conversations with the Outpost, local and regional stakeholders expressed serious concerns about a range of issues, including conflicts with the fishing industry, impacts to birds and marine life and more.

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