Offshore wind energy on Central Coast closer after environmental assessment of site surveys

Source: By Mackenzie Shuman, The Tribune • Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2022

Another step forward was taken in the long process before offshore wind turbines may be seen floating in the Pacific Ocean off the Central Coast.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency overseeing the offshore wind activities in the Morro Bay wind energy area, released on Wednesday a draft environmental assessment analyzing the potential impacts site surveys may have.

These site surveys include site assessments and site characterization. Site assessments would most likely include the temporary placement of meteorological buoys and scientific sampling equipment, while site characterization activities would most likely include geophysical, geotechnical, biological, archaeological and ocean-use surveys, according to BOEM.

In its environmental assessment, BOEM concluded overall that these activities in the Morro Bay wind energy area will have minor, if any, impacts on each factor it analyzed including marine life, air and water quality, fishing and current ocean vessel traffic. Many of the minor impacts predicted can be mitigated, according to BOEM’s assessment.

It is important to note that “this analysis does not consider the impacts associated with the siting, construction and operation of any commercial wind power facilities,” BOEM wrote in the environmental assessment. That review will come later in the process.

Over the next 30 days, the public can comment on the environmental assessment to provide feedback to BOEM on whether it perhaps mischaracterized or missed any potential impacts.

Additionally, two public meetings will be held in April regarding the environmental assessment.

“Public input on our environmental analysis and identified measures to avoid or reduce potential impacts from leasing activities is an important part of our process under the National Environmental Policy Act,” BOEM’s Pacific Office Regional Director, Doug Boren, said in a prepared statement. “BOEM will analyze and consider all comments before we finalize our analysis.”

Why pursue wind energy in Morro Bay?

The Morro Bay wind energy area encompasses 240,898 acres, or 376 square miles, in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean west of San Simeon and Cambria, several miles northwest of Morro Bay.

BOEM expects to issue up to three leases to companies to erect offshore wind turbines in the area, according to the environmental assessment.

The area has the potential to generate about 2.9 gigawatts of energy at full power — enough to power more than a million homes, according to BOEM. Based on BOEM assessments, the area could likely provide about 10.2 million to 15.4 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

In comparison, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant produces about 18 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to PG&E.

After the 30-day public comment period on the environmental assessment is finished, BOEM will take time to review any feedback it receives and then issue a final environmental assessment.

Next, BOEM will release a proposed sale notice for public comment. This document will outline the auction framework and various requirements around the issuance of a lease.

The lease sale is then expected to happen sometime this fall.

Should a company win a lease, it cannot automatically begin building wind turbines in the Morro Bay wind energy area.

First, the company must submit a site assessment plan to BOEM. This, probably submitted to BOEM within one year after the lease is issued, will outline what activities the company proposes to undertake to assess the wind energy area — the potential environmental impacts of which BOEM analyzed in the environmental assessment released Wednesday.

If that site assessment plan is approved by BOEM, then the company can take five years to assess the ocean conditions to determine how they’d possibly construct an offshore wind farm.

If the company decides to continue forward with building an offshore wind energy farm, then it must submit a construction and operations plan to BOEM. This document will outline various factors of the development including the size of the wind turbines, the extent of the undersea marine cables, how the turbines would be anchored to the ocean floor, onshore activities and project layout.

BOEM would then take the company’s construction and operations plan and analyze any potential environmental impacts the project may cause. That process will be open to public participation.

Throughout this process, BOEM says it will consult with Native American tribes and federal, state and local agencies.

Morro bay wind energy area map.JPG
The designated 376-square-mile area in which floating offshore wind turbines may be developed, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Courtesy of BOEM