Offshore wind could generate an onshore economic boom for the Central Coast

A lift boat, right, that serves as a work platform, assembles a wind turbine off Block Island, R.I., on Aug. 15, 2016.
A lift boat, right, that serves as a work platform, assembles a wind turbine off Block Island, R.I., on Aug. 15, 2016. Associated Press file

Ocean winds that whip the Central Coast could be turned into an economic boom in the form of offshore wind turbines.

But development of a floating wind energy farm, where towers rise above floating docks anchored to the ocean floor, likely wouldn’t begin for several years, according to representatives from a multiagency task force on renewable energy, who discussed the topic in a packed public meeting Thursday night.

“I was introduced to the idea of offshore when Trident came forward. My initial reaction was, ‘That’s a big idea,’ ” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who convened a Thursday meeting on the issue. “The more I thought about it, the more it seems like a really interesting idea. And it would have some significant impacts onshore too.”

After Seattle-based Trident Winds applied for an “outer continental shelf” lease to install 100 floating foundations for wind turbines off the coast of Morro Bay in January 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Management learned there was competitive interest in offshore energy development off the Central Coast. The multiagency renewable energy task force — composed of federal, state, local government agencies and tribes — is working toward potential leasing for offshore wind in the federal waters off California.

Representatives of the task force on Thursday addressed a crowd of about 100 entrepreneurs, Morro Bay fisherman, local and state government representatives and environmentalists about the process to lease federal and state ocean space for floating wind farms that could be anchored 15 to 50 miles offshore.

The task force indicated it would likely be years before turbines turn sea breeze into energy that would reach California’s grid through underwater cables. The task force is working on the first phase of the process: planning and research — focused on the Central Coast, where winds consistently blow above 7 meters per second, and existing infrastructure at the Morro Bay energy plant and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant could be used to distribute wind-generated power.

Gibson said he has heard estimates that development of a 1-gigawatt wind farm could mean $100 million of economic activity onshore, a significant boost to the area as leaders look to fill potential losses from the closure of the Diablo Canyon plant in 2025.

Offshore wind energy development might also be able to help contribute to meeting the state’s bold renewable energy targets of 33 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, established as part of the state’s climate change initiative.

“Here in California, climate change is not an abstract concept,” said U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, who co-hosted the event. “We’ve seen the real tangible effects here in our communities. The yearslong drought put a considerable strain on our economy and our public health.”

He added: “We clearly cannot delay in implementing a longterm strategy to combat climate change, and that starts with a firm commitment to reducing our carbon output and transitioning toward a clean energy economy.”

Not everyone enthusiastically supports the potential. Some fishermen worry that wind farms could interfere with their fishing grounds, while some coastal residents are leery of environmental impacts and unsightly views. Task force representatives said they’re anxious to continue to hear about local concerns, and they encouraged those interested in using an online portal meant for information sharing.

“It is encouraging to see California take the lead in exploring sustainability energy solutions, (and) its great to see the public involved in this process. We cannot ignore the impacts that new energy systems will have on our environment and on our local economies and which must be carefully weighed in this process,” Carbajal said.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan