Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the provisional winners for the development of offshore wind energy in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, located 20-25 miles offshore from Humboldt Bay. Initial statements from the provisional winners indicate that if fully developed, the wind areas have the potential for upwards of 2.6 gigawatts of energy—enough for approximately two million homes. This marks a significant step forward in the expansion of renewable offshore wind energy in the United States.
Offshore wind energy complements other forms of renewable energy, such as solar, as its hours of peak production generally occur in the evenings. In this way, wind energy reduces the need for fossil fuel power generation or energy storage because wind speeds “pick up” when solar drops off after the sun sets. The Humboldt Wind Energy Area is among the first areas in the nation to be developed for floating offshore wind because of its high and consistent winds, making it a potentially robust and reliable source of renewable energy.
Wind energy, of course, comes with certain risks to the local environment. Based on known wildlife usage, the offshore wind areas are relatively lower risk generally compared to onshore or near-shore wind developments. Yet for some particularly at-risk species—say, long-lived species with low fecundity—wind energy could be very harmful. Thoughtful project design can reduce but is unlikely to completely eliminate those threats.
Balancing harms caused by renewable energy development against the harms caused by climate change is difficult. Without renewable energy projects like offshore wind, we will be unable to reduce the burning of fossil fuels quickly enough to forestall significant climate change. Climate change is going to wreak havoc on the North Coast—from a loss of summer fog contracting the range of the redwoods, to increased water temperatures making salmon runs even more tenuous than they are now, to sea level rise swallowing the prominent eelgrass beds of Humboldt Bay. Protecting the ecosystems of the North Coast requires decarbonization, which in turn requires new renewable energy development—we can’t shutter the methane-burning Humboldt Generating Station without it.
EPIC is working closely to track the development of offshore wind and ensure that any project, if built, will work for our environment and our local communities. We are doing this through early and robust engagement with regulatory entities including the California Coastal Commission and the BOEM, engagement with project developers, and the fostering of a community of engaged stakeholders including tribal nations, organized labor and other environmental groups. (Shout-out to our friends at Humboldt Baykeeper who are our amazing partners in this work.)