Editorials

Wind farms could be banned off the Central Coast, yet offshore oil wells could be OK?

A wind turbine was installed 20 kilometers off the coast of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, in northeastern Japan in 2013. Off-shore wind turbines could pop up across the Central Coast of California if the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gets enough public support.
A wind turbine was installed 20 kilometers off the coast of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, in northeastern Japan in 2013. Off-shore wind turbines could pop up across the Central Coast of California if the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gets enough public support. Associated Press

Let’s get this straight: It may be OK to sink more offshore oil wells on the Central Coast if the Trump administration has its way ... but not OK to build clean-energy wind farms?

Unfortunately, that could be true, though it’s not President Trump — whose hatred of wind turbines is well-documented — who might scuttle an offshore wind farm proposed northwest of Morro Bay. It’s the U.S. Navy.

The Navy has designated the coast of Southern and Central California a red zone — an area where wind farms would not be compatible with Navy operations, according to an article by local web-based journalist John Lindt that ran in the Jan. 28 Tribune.

To be clear, the red zone designation applies only to offshore wind farms; the Navy hasn’t weighed in on whether offshore oil wells could be compatible.

(That raises a question: Shouldn’t the Trump administration find that out before it goes any further with its oil lease proposal?)

More specifically, it’s Ventura’s Point Mugu test range that’s the compatibility issue. According to the Navy’s website, the 36,000 square-mile sea range off the coast “supports both developmental and operational test and evaluation of missiles, free-fall weapons and electronic warfare systems.”

And here we thought there was a great big ocean out there.

Apparently, it’s not big enough — although there is a some hope the Navy may revise its position. It’s working on a “site specific” study that could open up some areas to wind farming.

If not, then offshore wind farms would more likely be located along the Northern California coast.

We hope not. While it would premature to endorse the project at this early stage, it’s definitely worth exploring.

As Trident Wind’s CEO Alla Weinstein told us, “You can’t say you want to be energy-independent and shut down certain searches.” (Trident is one of two companies that’s submitted proposals to build a wind farm off the Central Coast.)

Trident hopes to supply from 650 to 1,000 megawatts of wind energy (by comparison, Diablo Canyon generates 2,160 megawatts), using existing transmission infrastructure that includes the defunct Dynergy plant in Morro Bay.

That would help California meet its clean energy goals, and it would boost the local economy by replacing some of the jobs and revenue that will be lost when the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant closes in 2024-25. The Trident operation estimates adding 6,000 long-term jobs; that’s huge.

But before we get too excited, we offer a few words of caution: Even if the Navy does agree to shrink its “no go” zone, there are still objections to overcome.

Here are some concerns about offshore wind farms raised last spring at a San Luis Obispo meeting sponsored by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management:

▪  Constant underwater noise might interrupt sea life navigation and communication.

▪  Birds could be killed by spinning windmill blades.

▪  Underwater cables could entangle or alter the migration patterns of marine mammals, including endangered species like the blue, gray and humpback whales.

▪  The Santa Ynez Band of Mission Indians Tribal Elders Council opposed the lease request because of the unknown impacts of wind turbines on an important ceremonial location in the area.

▪  The World Shipping Council said there’s significant commercial shipping activity in the area, and vessels could be put in harm’s way if they’re too close to wind turbines.

▪  The fishing industry could lose access to large swaths of ocean, particularly if the federal government sells a lease to more than one area for wind development.

Aesthetics are generally an issue as well.

That’s one of the big reasons President Trump has been a longtime foe. He fought a long battle against the development of a wind farm located off the shore of his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland.

“Don’t destroy your coastlines and your countryside with these monstrous turbines,” Trump wrote to a Scottish official in 2012. “Your economy will become a third world wasteland that global investors will avoid.”

No worries that Morro Bay would become a third-world wasteland; the turbines would be so far offshore they would be invisible or barely visible from land.

And if they were visible, so what?

As long as other more important issues — such as negative effects on endangered species — are resolved, putting up with these “eyesores” would be a small price to pay for what we’d gain in return.

We don’t want the U.S. Navy to have to curtail it’s important operations, but given the potential ability of this project to supply energy and boost our post-Diablo economy, we strongly urge finding a compromise that would allow both uses.

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