Federal regulators will put out a call for information and nominations for companies interested in developing offshore wind off of California, a major victory for an industry that has been predominately clustered along the East Coast.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said during an Oct. 17 speech at an American Wind Energy Association conference that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's request for information will include three wind energy areas off of central and northern California. The call will officially be published in the Federal Registrar on Oct. 19, and companies will have until Jan. 27, 2019, to submit a comment on the RFI.
In addition, Zinke announced that the lease sale for three new wind energy areas totaling about 390,000 acres in Massachusetts will occur on Dec. 13. Zinke had previously announced the sale on April 6, shortly after BOEM solicited feedback for putting more offshore wind leases along the Atlantic Ocean. The same area went unsold in a 2015 auction.
Energy is a bipartisan issue, Zinke said, and opening up the Pacific Ocean for offshore wind development will help the U.S. government achieve energy dominance.
"This industry is young. This industry is enthusiastic. This industry is embracing technology," he said. "You look at where we are today with renewables ... the wind, no pun intended, is in your favor."
Offshore wind has struggled to get off the ground along the West Coast compared to Eastern states, mainly due to the fact that the vast majority of the Pacific Ocean's available offshore wind resource is in waters deeper than 60 meters. Traditional offshore wind projects use fixed-bottom wind turbines, which means wind farms in the Pacific would need to be using floating turbines in order to be feasible.
One of the potential areas that California could have offshore wind development has already seen major interest from companies. EDP Renováveis's North American offshore wind unit has been working with Redwood Coast Energy Authority, a Eureka, Calif.-based energy provider, and other clean energy companies to develop a floating offshore wind project off the Northern California coast. In September, the consortium filed a lease application to federal regulators to build the WindFloat project, which could have a capacity between 100 MW and 150 MW.
"I think you can put the West Coast in perspective when you see the dramatic progress on the East Coast with the significantly lower prices and significant development over the next several years," AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said in an interview. "The West Coast has now seen the extraordinary potential that has been demonstrated on the East Coast. It is obviously different technology with floating wind turbines and that research is being done, but I think that is coming quite quickly, quite soon."
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, applauded the Massachusetts lease sale date and the California RFI, adding that Zinke's announcement "mark significant milestones in the race for American energy security."