County to Further Study Offshore Wind Needs

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 29, 2023

The 67-foot research vessel, Fulmar, is scheduled to come to Morro Bay in early July for a series of studies to survey marine mammals in the local waters as part of the environmental study for offshore floating wind farms. Fulmar is the primary vessel assigned to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy MBNMS

County Supervisors have voted to accept a grant meant to further identify onshore infrastructure needs for proposed floating offshore wind energy farms being studied now for installation on a patch of ocean far offshore from San Simeon.

Supervisors agreed to accept $1 million from the State from something called the “Deep Water Port Feasibility Study for Offshore Wind Energy Procurement” project that is allocating the money to SLO County via Caltrans. 

It’s the next step in studying the needs for both offshore wind and aerospace industries on the Central Coast.

That initial study was managed by REACH, a regional economic action coalition, and published on Dec. 15, 2022, according to a County report. 

The study, called the “Central Coast Emerging Industries Waterfront Siting and Infrastructure Study,”  “was the first to examine in detail how waterfront infrastructure constructed specifically on the Central Coast could support the emerging offshore wind energy industry,” the County report said. “The study explored the breadth of possibilities on the Central Coast to inform further examination and decision-making on policy and investment.”

The REACH study, like many such studies, concluded that more study is needed “to narrow the breadth of options presented to focus on a limited number of sites for further technical analysis, including matters related to infrastructure, workforce development, environmental matters, etc.”

One sticking point in the push for the offshore wind farms has been the lack of a deep water port where the 600-800 foot turbines, moorings and chain, could be assembled and readied to tow to the wind farm site, some 20-30 miles off San Simeon.

The State Legislature and Governor’s Office doubled down on the wind farms in the 2022 State Budget Act, where the $1 million for the continued study came from.

The City of Morro Bay recently received $1.5 million to make repairs and upgrades to the North T-pier as part of the effort to bring floating offshore wind energy to the area. Pictured from left are: Morro Bay Interim City Manager, Greg Carpenter; Councilwoman, Cyndee Edwards; Mayor, Carla Wixom; Congressman, Salud Carbajal; Councilwoman, Jennifer Ford; Councilwoman, Laurel Barton; and Harbor Director, Ted Schiafone.  Photo courtesy Rep. Carbajal

“With the $1 million in state funding,” the County report said, “the County has the opportunity to undertake the second phase of a study to inform offshore wind related decision-making by identifying opportunities and constraints for the San Luis Obispo County region. 

“The ‘Deep Water Port Feasibility Study for Offshore Wind Procurement’ will analyze the factors related to offshore wind development at San Luis Obispo County locations.”

The money will be used to hire a consultant to do a “technical analysis pertaining to topics related to offshore wind development, including infrastructure, workforce development, and environmental matters in San Luis Obispo County,” the report said.

It will also “develop a communication and community engagement strategy for promoting the Study and related offshore wind matters; and provide County administrative resources to accomplish the aforementioned scopes of work, including internal staff resources and external consultant resources.”

The issue of the offshore floating wind farms has entered a somewhat quiet stage as the three companies — Equinor Wind US, LLC; Central California Offshore Wind, LLC; and, Invenergy California Offshore, LLC — study the environmental impacts of their proposed operations. 

The three companies plus another off Humboldt County bid a total of $757.1 million for the initial four West Coast leases. The Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM, concluded the lease sale last December.

Along those lines the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is slated to send a research vessel to Morro Bay in early July to conduct surveys on marine mammal populations whales and dolphins — migrating through the area in an attempt to judge the impacts and advise on mitigation measures.

Underwater recording devices are slated to be deployed on buoys to listen for whales swimming past the Central Coast, among other scientific studies. 

The 67-foot research vessel, Fulmar, operates under the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is used for research, education and emergency response, according to the website for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (see: montereybay.noaa.gov/marineops/about/fulmar/welcome). The marine sanctuaries are a division under NOAA.

“The R/V Fulmar is a Teknicraft hydrofoil-assisted, aluminum-hulled catamaran that was designed specifically to handle the wave states and conditions found in this region,” the MBNMS said. “The vessel strengthens, streamlines and connects efforts along the almost 400-miles of Central and Northern California coastline protected by these National Marine Sanctuaries.”

Also, Congressman Salud Carbajal recently presented the Morro Bay Harbor Department with some $1.5 million to make “repairs and upgrades to the structure [North T-pier], which is critical to the City’s residents, industries, and tourism revenue,” reads a news release from Rep. Carbajal’s Office. “The T-Pier is a perfect example of how supporting the improvements to one piece of community infrastructure can pay exponential dividends down the road. Whether it’s Morro Bay’s commercial fishing industry, its year-round tourism, its residents, our coasts, or even our local Coast Guard and Fish and Wildlife operations — funding repairs to this pier is a tide that will raise all of those boats.

“The T-Pier will also serve as a primary hub for operations of any offshore wind infrastructure constructed off the Morro Bay coast, making these funds another early investment in the clean energy transformation that our region is poised to lead.”

Just what those improvements will look like remains to be seen as the City and the offshore wind lease holders have to work that out.

Also, the City has Measure D, which designates a “commercial fishing” zoning area from Beach Street northward on the west side of the Embarcadero. Measure D requires all development in that zoning to be related to or support commercial fishing or sport fishing, neither of which apply to offshore wind energy. 

As a locally-approved voter initiative, the State and Federal Governments don’t have to obey it, but City officials do, and to justify it will have to somehow get around it or ask voters to change it or repeal it.

That World War II-era T-pier needs a lot of work. “The City will use the federal funds secured by Carbajal,” reads the Congressman’s news release from May 4, “in combination with other funding sources to replace a majority of the pier’s structural and fender pilings, which were rated with ‘moderate’ structural deterioration in the 2011 assessment, as well as replacing the fire suppression automatic sprinkler system, electric systems, and other pieces of the pier’s infrastructure.”

Also, on May 9 the Port of Long Beach in Orange County announced that it intends to try and become the home port for West Coast offshore wind farms.

“The Port of Long Beach,” reads a May 11 article on the American Journal of Transportation website, “has announced a bold plan to establish a 400-acre wind port called Pier Wind that could centralize the manufacture and staging of floating offshore wind turbines on the West Coast and provide a major infrastructural boost to California’s planned goal of building floating wind farms so as to generate 25 Gigawatts by 2045.”

Long Beach produced its own study on offshore floating wind entitled, “Pierwind Project Concept Phase Final Conceptual Report” which said, “port infrastructure on the U.S. West Coast, including California, is not adequate to support the development of the offshore wind industry, and significant port investment is required to develop purpose-built offshore wind port facilities. 

“This is because offshore wind components are large and require port facilities with significant laydown area and infrastructure with heavy loading capacities to assemble the turbine systems.”

REACH’s first study said a wind turbine assembly facility needs 40-50 acres of laydown yard, a deep water port and a huge floating work quay, room for which can’t be found anywhere in San Luis Obispo County. 

The study did however, suggest that the man-made harbor at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant might be able to be enlarged to accommodate the wind farms’ needs.

Whether the offshore floating wind farms ultimately pencil out environmentally or economically, one thing seems clear, the State and Federal Governments are willing to allocate significant amounts of money to make it so. 

And competition for the thousands of jobs and billions in infrastructure improvements needed promises to be highly competitive.

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