The federal government confirmed this week that sites off Diablo Canyon and Piedras Blancas are among the areas that will be considered for wind-farm leases that could put dozens 700-foot-tall floating turbines within sight of some of the Central Coast’s most iconic areas.
Meanwhile, the representative of a prominent North Coast family is among those who are having to consider impacts from a proposed wind energy project approximately 27 miles offshore of Piedras Blancas. Among their concerns are what the turbines would do to views from Hearst Castle.
So far, Stephen Hearst doesn’t appear to be too thrilled about the prospect.
The Hearst Corp. vice president and general manager of the firm’s vast Western properties including the 82,000-acre Hearst Ranch in San Simeon said he’s “not so sold on wind power,” especially within view of the Hearst Castle.
Hearst spoke out on the project following an Oct. 11 informational meeting in Cambria attended by about a dozen people,
Castle Wind and its venture partners Trident Winds and the German firm EnBW GMBH have an application pending with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for an L-shaped conglomeration of turbines 25 miles from Point Estero, nearly 34 miles to Los Osos and 21.5 miles from Cambria. A 32.7-mile cable would carry generated electricity to the water outflow tunnel on the north side of Morro Rock.
Project representatives have been making the rounds, talking to stakeholders who might be impacted by the project and holding public-information meetings. There was also a meeting Oct. 11 in Morro Bay attended by several dozen people.
‘It’s the view’
Hearst doesn’t have the ability to sink the project, but as the head of the largest landowner in the area, he carries a big voice. He met with Castle Wind/Trident representatives a month or so ago, he said.
“Do I oppose it? I’m not sure,” Hearst said in an interview with The Tribune. “I know I need additional facts. I don’t want the viewshed impaired from the Castle, along Highway 1 or from the ranch. There are other locations for the project, I’m sure, that would yield as good results or better.”
Hearst said he and the corporation supports “smart, clean, green actions” and innovations, such as the 2,890-megawatt solar farm at the its Jack Ranch near Shandon and construction of Hearst Tower in New York City, which was “the greenest building in the U.S.” when it was built, he said.
When it comes to alternative sources of energy, Hearst said, “it’s necessary to investigate all of them.”
He added: “Does it make sense to put wind turbines in front of what’s possibly” the most popular tourism view in the state?
“When anybody walks into any room facing west in the Castle, they’ll walk by all the artifacts, all the artworks,” Hearst said. “They walk to the window and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ It’s the view … one of the most valuable attributes of the castle. I don’t think impairing it is in the best interests of the state or the Central Coast.”
Central Coast a front-runner
If approved, the wind farm would be the first such project on the West Coast.
As currently proposed, the wind turbines would float in rows facing northwest. The 700-foot-tall floating structures would be anchored to the ocean floor.
The firm would use the infrastructure of the old power plant in Morro Bay, repurposing the current stacks as a wind-turbine training center (they’re the same height as the wind turbines would be).
The approval process includes more than 30 permits and licenses at all governmental levels.
Prior to Hearst’s comments, the Central Coast project appeared to be at the front of the line. Morro Bay city administrator Eric Endersby said in late summer that he has been working with Trident Winds to take advantage of the grid in the city where the mothballed Dynegy power plant has sat idle since 2014.
A previous hurdle had been a U.S. Navy map that shows virtually all of the California coast “off limits” to ocean wind farms. But Trident’s work with local stakeholders includes the Department of Defense, Castle Winds CEO and Trident founder Alla Weinstein said.
She said the final decision rests with BOEM, which this week released three approved locations for wind-farm development: the Morro Bay/Piedras Blancas site and also Humbolt, which already has a proposal from community-based utility Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and Diablo Canyon, 22 miles offshore of Los Osos.
A 100-day public comment period on the proposed sites starts Friday; other companies can also submit bids on their own proposed projects within those sites in that time period.
Hearst acknowledged that “regardless of where you are on the California coast, you’ll have viewshed issues,” but he opined that perhaps “off the coast of Humboldt could be a superior location.”
Other stakeholders include State Parks (which operates Hearst Castle); the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (the project as proposed would be just outside of sanctuary waters); the California Coastal Commission; Bureau of Land Management (Piedras Blancas Light Station and Outstanding Natural Area); Caltrans (which, under the terms of the Hearst Ranch-State of California conservation agreement, holds the visual easement along Highway 1); the Northern Chumash Tribal Council; environmental groups; the congressional delegation; and representatives of the commercial fishing industry.
Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Parks district that includes Hearst Castle, said Monday that he’s already had some conversations with Trident representatives, and had been cooperating with them to the extent of providing data and photographs the firm can use in its presentations.
Falat stressed that he and the agency are very supportive of alternative energy concepts and other projects that reduce the carbon footprint, as mandated by the state. The Castle has a new solar array to provide power to the visitor center, an expanded range of car-charging stations and various energy-saving actions taken on the hilltop.
But for now, he and State Parks “don’t have a position yet on the project. We know there are aesthetics and viewshed issues, which are always key components.”
However, Falat added, more details are needed before there can be an official response from State Parks. That includes specifics about where on the Castle hilltop and along the Highway 1 corridor the massive floating turbines would be visible.
“That will be a question for many folks in the county,” he said.
Among other concerns expressed at the Cambria meeting were potential pollution, fire danger and, of course, impacts on fishing, water recreation and wildlife.
To keep track of the project, visit federalregister.gov and search for “offshore wind.” A Morro Bay website that compiles information about the project is at morro-bay.ca.us/897/Trident-Winds-Offshore-Wind-Energy-Proje.