A task force working to bring offshore wind energy to the Central Coast suggests moving a proposed wind farm much closer to San Luis Obispo County’s shore after the U.S. Navy once again balked at the idea of erecting up to 100 floating turbines in an area of the Pacific Ocean where it conducts maneuvers.
The new plans, however, have already drawn objections from Morro Bay leaders and the fishing industry, who are worried about the impacts.
Meanwhile, Congressman Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who has been negotiating with the Navy since 2016 to bring offshore renewable energy to the Central Coast, introducted legislation to compel the military back into talks after it apparently reversed course on a working agreement reached earlier this year.
On July 1, the same day Carbajal’s staff was offering ideas at a public webinar hearing on new proposals to launch the offshore wind industry, Carbajal offered an amendment to the Department of Defense’s annual appropriation that was designed to bring the Navy back into the conversation.
The DOD initially found the idea of 900-foot turbines floating in the sea ”incompatible” with military operations, saying it needed a wide area for maneuvers.
But in March, a task force that includes the California Energy Commission and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the DOD, suggested it was close to a deal to bring wind turbines to a location off Carbajal’s district that would be acceptable to the Navy.
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Now, in a surprise announcement, however, Carbajal said the Navy is again saying no to all proposals.
As a result, earlier this month at a Washington hearing for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, Carbajal, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, offered an amendment that would require Navy cooperation in the talks.
The House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2021 fiscal year on July 21 by a margin of 295-125. The bill provides funding and oversight for the nation’s military, defense and security needs and contains several of Carbajal’s proposals, including offshore wind.
Carbajal’s summary of the amendment says it ”advances offshore wind energy development on the Central Coast and restricts the secretary of defense from prematurely objecting to an offshore energy project without consulting Congress.”
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While Carbajal is negotiating with the Navy, the BOEM is weighing modifying the area boundaries to consider wind power projects closer to the coast.
Wind power companies in the past have suggested they could set up 30-plus miles off Morro Bay. But now there is discussion of sites as little as 15 to 20 miles offshore to meet Navy objections.
However, plans to alter the “call area” for offshore wind projects now has its detractors that include Morro Bay fishermen and the city as well.
The idea was discussed at the task force’s July 1 webinar, which replaced a planned public meeting in Morro Bay.
Tom Hafer, president of the 90-member Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, criticized the proposal, saying it amounted to a “bait and switch.”
Originally, Castle Wind, one of the proposed developers, suggested it would ask for a site for up to 100 turbines some 30 miles off the coast. The company spent months huddling with the Morro Bay fishing industry and the city and got them to agree to the idea. A memo of understanding was signed.
The new task force proposal being discussed could move the 900-foot-tall turbines as much as half the distance closer to shore into waters they use for fishing, Hafer said.
“This is going to screw up fishing,” Hafer said. “This is going to change the migratory habits of a lot of fish out there — albacore, salmon, black cod. Who knows what these are going to do?”
Hafer also is concerned that the wind industry will want more territory in the future as well.
“We have worries that the noise and electrolysis will greatly affect our fisheries in those areas, including rockfish, spot prawns, black cod, salmon, albacore, and wet fish. What studies have been done that will absolutely prove that this will not cause these fisheries to avoid this area?”
“You need to talk to the fishermen,” Hafer said. A member of the task force agreed to meet with Hafer as it takes comments on the idea until at least July 31.
Also critical of moving wind turbines closer to shore was Morro Bay Mayor John Headding, who complained that a change of plans would require BOEM to re-issue a new call, delaying the project a year or more. With Diablo Canyon closing soon, the region needs the economic stimulus now, he said.
The industry had hoped the leasing process would go forward in 2021 after more than four years of discussion.
Morro Bay Harbor Director Eric Endersby said he believes the Navy is amenable to some portion of the existing call location but that this issue remains ”a moving target.”
The task force has already ditched a call area off Diablo Canyon at the request of the Navy, focusing instead on the 25-mile-wide Morro Bay site and now some adjacent areas closer to shore, with some overlapping the existing Morro Bay site.
“I can’t see why the Navy claims thousands of miles of the eastern Pacific and won’t allow wind energy in one little box on the map,” Endersby said, adding that moving the site nearer to the shore would located it in more shallow fishing waters.
Moving the project closer to land also was not a popular idea among others, including Big Sur residents.
One argued, “Leave Big Sur alone. It’s beautifully untouched by your energy-grubby fingers. The public should have a say!”
A Hearst Castle representative also offered concerns about how the turbines would affect the viewshed from the monument.
The workshop included a visual simulation of how the tall turbines would look if sited 15 or 17 to 20 miles out from several vantage points, including Valencia Peak in Montana de Oro State Park, Piedras Blancas, Limekiln State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.
The simulations show how the turbines might look from different elevations and at a variety of times of day. The video can be viewed at www.boem.gov/Julia-Pfeiffer-Burns-State-Park-Visualization-Video.
For his part, Carbajal noted while speaking on the House floor that the task force ”had made great progress“ to find a win-win solution that the Navy had signed off on earlier this year.
“Wind energy is critical for our 21st century clean energy goals” and ”will create thousands of jobs,” he said. The issue is critical to the Central Coast, he added, “especially with the impending closure of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.“
But Carbajal said the assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment recently “made it clear to myself that wind energy development may not be compatible with military activities.”
This “reversal” of the Navy position came abruptly, he said, and “without any acknowledgment of commitments previously made.”
Requests for comment from the Navy have not been answered, with a source saying “the Pentagon wants all comments to be coordinated.“
From the Carbajal side, the expectation is there is going to be another task force meeting coming up that includes Department of Defense representation.
Looking to encourage the Navy to come back to the table, Carbajal’s amendment requires that the Defense Department not “prematurely object to offshore wind off the Central Coast” and follow the clearing house process, he said.
John Lindt is the editor of the news website sierra2thesea.net.
Correction: This story was updated to correct which assistant secretary of the Navy Carbajal has been talking with.