At a public forum Thursday in Morro Bay, residents grilled officials from a Seattle-based wind-energy company on how their proposal to install 100 windmills off the coast might affect fishing, views and the environment.
Officials with Trident Winds sought to put the audience of about 100 people at ease, saying the structures would have minimal impacts while supplying renewable energy for up to 300,000 California households.
Trident representatives Alla Weinstein and Eric Markell made their case for why the project would benefit California’s push for increased renewable energy sources, saying the ocean waters off Morro Bay and Cambria offer a steady supply of wind and have close proximity to a PG&E substation that can transmit energy to the state power grid.
“Offshore wind provides a much better resource than onshore,” Weinstein said. “It’s much higher quality wind, more consistent, and you’re going to get more energy offshore per structure than you’ll ever get on land.”
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The company envisions installing about 100 floating turbines, tethered to the ocean floor, about 34 miles off the Morro Bay coast, an area that minimizes impacts to fishing as well as shipping traffic because boats tend to use a different route to sail into shore, they said. The turbines would be about 600 feet tall (from the water’s surface) and could be spread across 70 square miles.
Local commercial fishermen said that a substantial amount of fishing is done closer to shore, but the area can be valuable ocean real estate for shark and swordfish.
The officials acknowledged that trawling and netting would be off limits in the area of the project, but they said that most fishing takes place closer to shore. Trident’s representatives said they will work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to gather comprehensive data on fish in the area.
Trident plans to file a lease application with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in January. Its project would be years away from implementation, requiring 33 permits from local, state and federal agencies.
Environmental activist Joey Racano was concerned with marine life impacts.
“Are there any studies that show how marine life would react to the vibrations (produced by the blades of the windmills)?” asked Racano, who lives in Los Osos. “Would there be a time, just like the oil rigs, when they dump these things back into the ocean and call them reefs?”
Weinstein and Markell said that wind energy projects in Europe, including in Portugal and Sweden, have been shown not to disturb marine life. The cables used would be 10 meters in diameter, and whales and fish are expected to avoid them. Also, the structures are anchored and removable from the ocean floor for decommissioning, they said.
Evan Barbis, a merchant marine and Morro Bay homeowner, said his calculations show that Morro Bay residents will see the structures, illuminated at night, even at 34 miles out.
“We the citizens will be seeing a city of lights out there,” Barbis said.
Weinstein responded: “As we go through the process, we’ll be doing simulations that will show what you may or may not be able to see.”
Weinstein and Markell don’t expect significant impacts to marine life or birds, noting birds tend to inhabit areas closer to shore and those farther out would fly under the windmill blades.