California could lead the nation in offshore wind energy

Source: By Jeff Hunerlach, CalMatters • Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2021

Standing on the beach, the giant blades of an offshore wind turbine 20 miles off the coast appear miniscule – a white pinprick floating on the blue horizon. But up close, the turbines are massive – taller, sometimes, than the Washington Monument and with blades that can span the length of a football field.

The impact of these turbines in transitioning California to 100% clean energy could be massive – in just seven seconds, the powerful rotation of a single offshore wind turbine can generate enough renewable electricity to power a home for an entire day.

In Europe, thousands of these turbines spin off the coast of 12 different nations, generating more than 22,000 megawatts of clean, pollution-free electricity. U.S. coastal waters, in contrast, are home to only two offshore wind farms, with a grand total of seven turbines, but President Joe Biden seeks to change that. Earlier this year, the new administration issued an executive order calling for a doubling of the nation’s offshore wind capacity.

Here’s why California’s environmental justice experts and advocates from organized labor think California needs to go all in on offshore wind.

In 2021, this multibillion-dollar industry is poised for explosive growth – and for the states who move to capitalize on this clean energy resource, the economic and jobs benefits will be enormous. By tapping offshore wind, California could create more than 17,500 good-paying jobs by 2045 in key regions that lack high-skilled job opportunities – while also improving air quality in frontline communities and delivering on our promise of 100% clean energy.

The East Coast may have a head start on offshore wind development, but our state is poised to move quickly. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already initiated the leasing process for three potential offshore wind sites off the coast of California – in Humboldt Bay, Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon – and two additional sites have been identified in studies for potential future development. If California built all five of these sites to their total generation capacity, they could provide 25% of our electricity needs with clean, pollution-free power.

Developing each of these sites will create thousands of jobs through shovel-ready projects. The first step to development – port revitalization – can create up to 6,000 local, full-time equivalent jobs per port right off the bat, according to a report from Brightline Defense. And that’s just the beginning – investing in offshore wind will generate thousands of additional jobs in construction, manufacturing, turbine demonstration and transmission line projects.

Many of the jobs created will require mandated apprenticeship training programs – creating new career pathways in the trades for workers who may have been displaced during the COVID-19 downturn. These opportunities will also prepare the state’s workforce for building, operating and maintaining California’s 100% clean energy electricity grid.

By meeting our electricity needs through clean, pollution-free offshore wind energy, California can also deliver vital air quality improvements in frontline communities. About 78% of California’s gas power plants reside in communities identified by CalEPA as having the state’s highest burden of poverty and cumulative environmental health burdens.

This legislative session, California policymakers have a fantastic opportunity to advance California’s progress toward 100% clean energy and capitalize on the economic and air quality opportunities by voting to pass Assembly Bill 525, introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. The bill would set a target of producing 10 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2040.

By investing in offshore wind energy, California can kickstart our economic recovery, create good jobs in hard-hit communities and cut lung-damaging pollution across the state. The Golden State can still lead the nation on offshore wind – but we need to move quickly. This opportunity is ours to lose.

Jeff Hunerlach is a district representative at Operating Engineers Local #3,