Assemblyman Cunningham urges offshore wind energy development off the Central Coast

Citing the imminent closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham is urging the federal government to consider leasing locations off the Central Coast for development of offshore wind energy production.

Cunningham, a Republican representing San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties in the 35th Assembly District, sent a letter Feb. 20 to U.S. Department of the Interior Acting Secretary David Berhardt advocating for the approval of leases for two wind farms, one about 30 miles west of the power plant, and another west of Morro Bay.

The agency’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently working with the State of California on planning for potential leasing of offshore wind sites in federal waters off California.

Cunningham stated in his letter that with the closure of Diablo Canyon, set for 2025, the state will lose approximately 9 percent of its energy production. Under current law, the state is mandated to generate 60 percent of its power through renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2030.

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Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo)

Calling it an “opportunity for the Central Coast to continue to lead the way in clean energy generation,” Cunningham told Berhardt that development of the offshore farms could easily tie in to the existing transmission infrastructure at either Diablo Canyon or Morro Bay — where the Dynegy electrical power plant shuttered in 2014 — and transmit power to the state grid.

“There is perhaps nowhere else on the West Coast with this type of infrastructure,” Cunningham wrote.

The closure of Diablo Canyon will additionally cost San Luis Obispo County residents some 1,500 head-of-household jobs, Cunningham wrote, while the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that construction of offshore wind farms could create more than 1,300 jobs “with residual jobs for operation and maintenance extending far into the future.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Department of Defense are currently studying two “call areas” off the Central Coast, and another west of Humboldt County. If approved, the agency would hold an auction for the rights to develop the sites sometime next year, according to a news release from Cunningham’s office.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.