Congress Members Urge Sanctuary-Wind Farm Co-Existence

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.

March 14, 2024

Government officials continue working on establishing a marine sanctuary off the Central Coast, but a fight is brewing over the new boundaries currently under consideration, and a couple of Congress people have now gotten involved.

Dist. 24 Congressman Salud Carbajal (D — Santa Barbara), and Dist. 26 Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D — Ventura) have teamed up to lobby the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to return the boundaries of the proposed Chumash Heritage NMS to the original proposal, and bring Morro Bay, Cayucos and the Harmony Coast back into its protection.

Both Democrat Congress members have long supported both the Sanctuary and offshore floating wind, and both matters seemed to be sailing along, until NOAA threw in this hot potato curveball of a boundary change, cutting Morro Bay out and frankly, angering many supporters here.

Last year, when NOAA released it preferred boundaries for the sanctuary, it dropped the northern edge down from off Cambria to below Morro Bay (at Hazard’s Reef in Montaña de Oro State Park) and added in a small section of the Gaviota Coast to the south. So what had been intended to be a continuous row of sanctuaries from San Francisco to the Channel Islands suddenly had a huge hole cut in it.

Cutting out about 30 miles of coastline was NOAA’s way of solving the perplexing issue of the offshore wind farms being proposed for a patch of ocean off the coast of San Simeon and hugging the boundaries of the Monterey Bay NMS, which stretches from San Francisco past Monterey Bay and ends off Cambria. 

Though the wind farm area is outside the Monterey Bay NMS, the three wind farms would likely need to run transmission cables and install floating substations in what would be sanctuary waters in their run down to Morro Bay, where the electricity is expected to come ashore.

That conflicts with the goals of the marine sanctuary program, namely to prevent the industrialization of the ocean — mainly from oil and gas exploration but apparently also electrical transmission wires.

Carbajal and Brownley also wrote to Department of Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, urging that the boundary be restored and provisions written into the new sanctuary’s management planning to allow for the wires to cross through.

They urged “a larger footprint than the most recent federally proposed alternative, and that the final designation includes parameters that recognize the need for coexistence with future offshore wind development and ensure that the sanctuary can serve as a model for co-stewardship with local indigenous communities.”

The lawmakers are pushing for the original boundaries and “advocating for the Commerce Department to clarify the future coexistence of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary with offshore wind projects off the Coast of Morro Bay.”

“We recommend,” their letter reads, “selection of the Initial Boundary Alternative with the understanding that future offshore wind developments will likely require allowing transmission lines through Sanctuary waters and that care should be taken to avoid, reduce, or mitigate environmental impacts to ocean resources associated with this development,” the letter said. 

They also urged NOAA to “clarify that transmission cables needed for future offshore wind development may be permitted within the sanctuary and to continue to be inclusive in engaging all stakeholders.”

While NOAA is in charge of the Marine Sanctuary Program, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM is overseeing the offshore wind farm projects, both here and off the Coast of Humboldt County (as well off the East Coast and Gulf Coast). (The State of California is also beginning to explore putting in offshore wind farms up and down the Coast of California, but in state waters, that is out to no more than 3 miles offshore.)

If it is ultimately approved and built, the so-called Morro Bay Call Area would see an initial 3 gigawatts of wind turbines installed on a nearly 400-square mile patch of ocean 20-30 miles off San Simeon and some 57 miles northwest of Morro Bay.

So far it seems the main people in support of the proposal are academics and the wind and renewable energy industry, along with elected officials at all levels of government — local, county, State and Federal. 

Meanwhile, a grassroots group, the REACT Alliance, has formed locally in opposition to the proposal and is seeking to stop what it characterizes as the industrialization of the ocean.

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