Talk about your mega showdowns! The US state of California is determined to push forward into the low carbon economy of the future, and President* Trump is just as determined to pull it back. As if the legal drama doesn’t already register 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, into the fray steps something called the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. This newly formed local energy agency just announced big plans to propel the nation’s first floating offshore wind farm into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
What Redwood Coast Energy Authority?
Technically speaking, RCEA is a Joint Powers Agency made up of Humboldt County, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District and the cities of Arcata, Blue Lake, Eureka, Ferndale, Fortuna, Rio Dell, and Trinidad.
I know right? Who are all these people? If you never heard of them before, join the club. What we do know is that they love renewables and clean tech:
The purpose of the Energy Authority is to develop and implement sustainable energy initiatives that reduce energy demand, increase energy efficiency, and advance the use of clean, efficient and renewable resources available in the region for the benefit of the Member agencies and their constituents.
That’s just the thought bubble. When you get into the nitty-gritty of what RCEA will actually do, things get mighty interesting. RCEA is not just riding the renewable energy wave. It wants the glory, too. Here’s one of the tasks which it has tasked itself with:
To support research, development, demonstration, innovation, and commercialization of sustainable energy technologies by public and private entities operating in Humboldt County.
And, that’s where the offshore floating wind turbines come in. RCEA is on a mission to transform Humboldt County into an epicenter of wind energy development in California, and to do that it is turning its attention about as far west as you can go in the US.
New Floating Offshore Wind Farm For California …
Wind farms are finally becoming a thing along the US east coast, so if you’re wondering why RCEA is focusing on floating, that’s because the west coast of the US is not a particularly friendly place for conventional wind farms. The continental shelf drops off steeply, so tried-and-true methods for anchoring turbine towers to the ocean floor are impractical.
Floating wind farms are just about the only option. That’s where you tether a floating turbine platform to the ocean floor with, well, tethers, so they don’t float away.
Unfortunately for RCEA, you can’t just order up a floating turbine platform online. In fact, there are none in commercial operation in the US, which explains why the west coast offshore wind industry has been drifting in the doldrums while the east coast industry is taking off like a rocket thanks to its friendlier undersea geography.
This is the part where you say, “but Scotland already has a floating offshore wind farm, why is this so difficult?”
For that matter, why can’t we just reach over and tap France, where an EU consortium is moving full steam ahead with floating offshore wind technology.
Well, it looks like RCEA is on to the next best thing. The agency sent out feelers to the global wind industry in February to see if anybody would be interested in developing a floating offshore wind farm for it as a public-private partnership.
Six responses came back, and it just announced a winner: a renewable energy consortium made up of Principle Power Inc., EDPR Offshore North America LLC, Aker Solutions Inc., H. T. Harvey & Associates, and Herrera Environmental Consultants Inc.
… Eventually! No, really.
This is the part where we usually say, “Errr, don’t hold your breath,” when it comes to cutting edge clean tech, but this project has the potential to move along quickly.
For starters, the consortium brings in the heavy guns. Principle Power, for example, has been on the CleanTechnica radar since 2009, when its floating offshore wind technology won a $750,000 assist from the US Department of Energy.
EDPR bills itself as the fourth-largest wind energy producer on Earth, while H.T. Harvey & Associates and Herrera Environmental Consultants will apply their considerable experience with ecosystem issues.
Then there’s Aker Solutions. The company has already partnered with Principle Power through its deep water oil and gas expertise. Way to pivot, guys!
Industry firepower is just one angle. Another advantage is location, location, location:
Humboldt County has natural enabling advantages that make it a prospective stepping stone for the offshore wind energy industry on the West Coast of the US. The wind resource off the Humboldt County coast is the best off California with average wind speeds of more than ten meters per second, inducing expected high capacity performance from wind farms.
If all goes according to plan, the new floating offshore wind farm will take shape around 20 miles off the coast of Eureka, with a capacity of anywhere from 100 to 150 megawatts.
RCEA is already looking at finalizing the partnership agreement within the next several weeks, with an eye on submitting an application for an offshore lease later this spring.
About That Offshore Wind Lease …
If you were wondering when Trump would come into the picture, this is where. The Trump administration has already lit a barn-burner of a legal showdown by challenging California on its authority to set standards related to auto emissions.
Another area of hot contention is offshore oil and gas drilling. In the latest development on that score, California has come up with a plan of its own to block the Trump Administration’s plans for enabling more drilling off its coast — a plan that could be used by other coastal states, too.
The offshore floating wind project just adds more fuel to the fire. Recall that Trump has a well known antipathy toward offshore wind, which goes back to that other renewable energy war he’s been waging in Scotland (long story!), and you can see the potential for the temperature to rise.
Right now the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful fighting force in the world probably has more things on his mind than yanking California’s chain over offshore wind, but don’t be surprised if you see fireworks over the horizon.
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Photo via Akers