The when and how of California’s floating wind
- January 1, 2024: Vol. 11, Number 1

The when and how of California’s floating wind

by Lewis Dayton

There’s been a rapid pace of offshore wind policy transformations in California since 2018, and the state is now at the precipice of constructing floating offshore wind farms in the Pacific. That is one of the takeaways from a panel discussion hosted by Reuters in September with industry and government leaders from the offshore wind sector.

Floating offshore wind has the potential to contribute significantly to the federal goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. “About two-thirds of our 4 terawatts of offshore wind potential in the United States is in deeper waters that require floating offshore, and that includes the entirety of the West Coast,” said Jocelyn Brown-Saracino, U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) offshore wind lead.

One of the main challenges for California wind developers at the moment, notes Jennifer Palestrant, senior vice president for public affairs in offshore wind at Invenergy, is procurement. “We have to have a way to sell the power,” she said. “That’s basic rule one. If we’re going to have developers invest billions of dollars into California, we have to have a way to sell the power.”

Ensuring there will be a market for the energy output “really unlocks all of the investment that we can start doing in terms of infrastructure investment, supply chain, workforce and the like,” said Rob Mastria, project director of offshore wind at RWE.

Notably, there are other challenges facing the floating offshore wind market. Manufacturing and servicing needs and supply chains are complex. Developing floating offshore wind is “a very space intensive activity,” noted Brown-Saracino. “We need to think about the whole lifecycle of port needs for floating offshore wind,” she said.

At the moment, most of the manufacturing will likely take place on the East Coast, and then the parts would be shipped to the West Coast on ships, which shouldn’t actually add that much to developers’ bottom lines, said Palestrant.

Brown-Saracino noted the DOE has “supported, through our national renewable energy laboratory, a West Coast ports network analysis and road mapping” in an effort to understand how best to build and prepare the region’s infrastructure and sites for floating offshore wind development.

Mastria added that a key aspect of getting California ready for the industry is the analysis that companies and government bodies are doing. “It’s going to be very exciting,” he said, “to see a lot of that front-end analysis start to switch over more into an execution phase now and decide here are the steps that we are going to take to get from today to tomorrow to be prepared for when the floating offshore wind industry is going to come to California.”

In addition to supply-chain, manufacturing and procurement challenges, there are also environmental and societal considerations to account for.

Secondary entanglement (when marine debris gets caught on cables or mooring lines and entangles animals) is a real threat from floating offshore wind farms. Wind farms can also displace marine animals and damage the habitats of organisms that live on the seafloor.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) advises that policymakers should base their siting and permitting decisions “on science and input from experts and stakeholders” and that “sensitive marine areas like National Marine Sanctuaries and state Marine Protected Areas” should be avoided.

Other areas for wind farms to steer clear of, says the NRDC, are “important wildlife habitat and migration routes, including NOAA-designated Biologically Important Areas (BIAs) for whales, Audubon Marine Important Bird Areas, designated critical habitat, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, and areas with vulnerable benthic habitats such as corals and sponges.”

“Similarly,” the NRDC writes, “turbine construction should be scheduled during seasons when sensitive species are less likely to be present.”

Valuing community input is also crucial. Necy Sumait, regional supervisor of strategic resources for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) Pacific regional office, notes that outreach to “stakeholders and tribes is the cornerstone of [BOEM’s] leasing process.”

“In listening to our stakeholders,” said Sumait, “we inserted a process of showing draft wind energy areas, having those out there, having public comments on the draft wind energy areas before we have final wind energy areas that will be studied under the EPA review.”

In areas where it is considering floating offshore wind farms, BOEM engages with the respective stakeholders and tribes “formally and in government-to-government consultation,” said Sumait, as well as “with their staff, as they need it at any step of the process, from the leasing process with regards to our studies, with regards to the rules that are pending — the modernization rule.”

With its recently announced program, the Floating Offshore Wind Shot (FOWS), the DOE is seeking to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind by 70 percent, to $45/megawatt-hour. Along with FOWS, a 2035 deployment target of 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity was announced by the government.

The Inflation Reduction Act also includes several tax provisions that help offshore wind manufacturers, developers and consumers, including offering tax credits on component costs and tax credits for developers who meet wage and apprenticeship requirements, as well as for those who locate facilities in fossil fuel–powered communities or who locate facilities on brownfield sites.

Floating offshore wind, which has already been installed at scale in countries such as Norway, Portugal and Scotland, is on its way to California. The question is how soon it can be sustainably installed, serviced and connected to the grid.


Lewis Dayton is associate editor at Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

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