The Biden Administration announced this morning that it’s ready to proceed with putting two swaths of the ocean off Humboldt County up for lease to potential offshore wind developers.
Leases for the two areas, which together total more than 206 square miles, will be sold at auction on Tuesday, Dec. 6.  Three areas near Morro Bay will go out for auction on the same date. These will be the first offshore wind leases on the Pacific Coast, and the first in the nation to support what the Department of Interior is calling “commercial-scale” offshore energy.
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Offshore wind is necessary to combat the climate crisis. With gigawatts of potential energy off of Humboldt’s coast as well as one of the first two lease areas proposed on the West Coast, Humboldt is leading the nation. As a leader, it is important that we set a strong example and that we can learn from this project to better develop offshore wind development that both maximizes the potential energy created while ensuring that whatever impacts occur are avoided, minimized and mitigated appropriately. 
EPIC and our friends at Humboldt Baykeeper, the Northcoast Environmental Center, and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the proposed sale notice for the Humboldt Wind Area. Read them HERE
Wildlife Impacts Uncertain, So Plan for Uncertainty
The marine environment 20-25 miles offshore is relatively poorly studied. While we have some information about what kinds of wildlife use the area, there are still holes in our understanding of what species might be impacted. Even for the species we know exist in this environment, it is unclear how they might interact with floating offshore wind turbines because—excuse the pun—we are in uncharted waters. Only a handful of other floating offshore wind turbines exist and none on the West Coast. What do we do with uncertainty? One approach, adopted by our groups, is rigorous data collection that feeds into project modifications. 
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On April 7, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plans for studying marine life in the proposed Humboldt Wind Energy Area, 21 miles west of Humboldt Bay. The Bureau, known as BOEM, plans to hold auctions this summer for offshore wind developers to bid on lease areas in federal waters off Humboldt and Morro Bay. Lessees will then begin “site assessment activities” to better understand potential impacts in these understudied ocean environments. 

The state and federal government set ambitious goals for developing renewable energy— like Humboldt County’s offshore wind project — but how quickly that development materializes locally is a matter of debate.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published a proposed sale notice for five commercial wind energy leases off the coast of California — three off the coast of Morro Bay in Southern California and two off the coast of Humboldt Bay. The combined area up for lease is 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, 1.6 to 1.8 GW of which could come from the North Coast once the Humboldt wind energy area was fully built out.
Norway-based Aker Offshore Wind is interested in developing offshore wind projects in both regions and has been working with both the local community and Morro Bay for four years. Jonah Margulis, senior vice president of Aker Offshore Wind, said there are different challenges in both areas.
“In the north, it’s mainly a transmission challenge,” Margulis said. “In the central, it’s mainly a port challenge.”
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The Department of Interior announced it will publish its proposed sale notice for five leases — three leases in the Morro Bay wind energy area and two leases in the Humboldt Bay wind energy area, totaling 373,268 acres with the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy if fully developed. The proposed leases include, among other things, requirements to work with the surrounding tribes and communities to mitigate any adverse impacts as well as incentives to invest in workforce training and enter into community benefit agreements.
“That’s the direction we’ve wanted to go towards for a long time,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, told The Times-Standard. “We’ll learn more as we go, but the community benefit agreement is going to be useful to us as locals to make this project be meaningful and help deliver benefits to Humboldt County. There’s also an opportunity to use community benefits agreements to get commitments for environmental protection at the outset of a project,” Wheeler said. “That means we don’t need to wait and fight projects further down the development process about what sort of mitigation measures they might include.”
“These lease sales are the first step towards the real work of assessing environmental impacts and how to avoid or mitigate them,” Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper, said in a statement. “Once developers enter into lease agreements, those site assessments will begin and we’ll have a much better understanding of how best to protect wildlife and their habitats as these projects move forward.”