California Set to Squander Billions on Offshore Wind

It’s about time Californians of all ideological persuasions wake up and stop what is possibly the most economically wasteful and environmentally destructive project in American history: the utility scale adoption of offshore wind energy. 

The California Legislature intends to despoil our coastline and coastal waters with floating wind turbines, 20+ miles offshore, tethered to the sea floor 4,000 feet beneath the waves. Along with tethering cables, high voltage wires will descend from each of these noisy, 1,000 foot tall leviathans, but we’re to assume none of this will disrupt the migrations of our treasured Cetaceans and other marine and avian life, not the electric fields emanating from hundreds (thousands?) of 20+ mile long live power lines laid onto the ocean floor, nor from the construction, the maintenance, or the new ports, ships, and submersibles.

This article from Politico, published September 1, seems to celebrate the passage of AB 1373, which authorizes the California Dept. of Water Resources to go “shopping for offshore wind.” It includes this quote, “’Central procurement makes offshore wind possible,’ said Martin Goff, California project director for the Norwegian developer Equinor.” And massive subsidies, perhaps? 

One month earlier, in August, Equinor pulled out of the Trollvind project in the North Sea because of unforeseen challenges including “technology availability, time constraints, and rising costs that made the project commercially unsustainable.” Also in August, Equinor sought “a 54 percent increase for the price of power produced at three planned U.S. wind farms” off the coast of New York. In the face of a likely denial, Equinor announced it could cancel U.S. offshore wind projects. In November 2021, Equinor abandoned a 1.4 GW floating wind farm off the shores of Ireland. 

With these financial failures behind them, Equinor is betting California can deliver a level of subsidies that were denied elsewhere, killing those projects. They’re probably right.

Last month Cal Matters published a reasonably balanced report describing local reaction to planned offshore wind developments in San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties. But while the article quoted a paid proponent of the project dismissing skeptics as NIMBYs, it didn’t investigate the possibility of wind industry contributions flowing into the political campaigns of local elected officials, along with the bank accounts of supportive nonprofits, tribes, and media properties. Hundreds of billions in California taxpayer funded subsidies are at stake. 

The Cal Matters article reported the California Energy Commission’s goal to achieve 25 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity. Hasn’t anyone calculated what that’s going to look like? Here is a best case scenario.

Even if these machines had a 40 percent yield, which is a realistic estimate of how frequently there will be enough wind to turn the rotors, and even if each machine had a capacity of 10 megawatts, 2,500 of them would be required to generate 10 gigawatts of baseload power.

Floating wind turbines with a capacity of 10 megawatts have barely been prototyped and have no long-term record of durability. As designed, each one is 1,000 feet from the waterline to the tip of the blade, and also require a commensurate flotation vessel and counterweight below the waterline. From tip to tip, they are longer than a U.S. Navy supercarrier.

Because these machines only generate power intermittently, generating 10 baseload gigawatts would require proportionate battery storage, along with thousands of miles of new undersea and land based high voltage lines. All this would only deliver 10 percent of the 100 gigawatt generating capacity Californians are going to need if the state legislature succeeds in forcing our residential and transportation sectors to go all-electric.

To get an idea of the environmental impact of offshore wind turbines, this article from the California Policy Center provides useful links to additional reports on the environmental destruction wrought by wind energy, both onshore and offshore. Wind turbines aren’t just Condor Cuisinarts. Along with raptors, condors, and other magnificent endangered birds, they kill bats and insects – their blades are at the altitude insect species migrate. 

Offshore, it’s worse. According to a recent study sponsored by a New England commercial fishing association, electromagnetic fields from undersea cables produce birth deformities in marine life and produce magnetic fields that disrupt the orientation abilities of some fish. Their low frequency operational noise disrupts sounds made by fish for mating, spawning, and navigating. The turbines “increase sea surface temperatures and alter upper-ocean hydrodynamics in ways scientists do not yet understand,” and “whip up sea sediment and generate highly turbid wakes that are 30-150 meters wide and several kilometers in length, having a major impact on primary production by phytoplankton which are the base of marine food chains.” 

Support for offshore wind by environmentalist organizations is inexplicable. Apparently, just say the magic words “climate crisis,” and anything goes.

In California, environmentalist safeguards, always a good idea, have been taken to extremes. On the California coast, hyper-regulation is the norm. Natural gas fueled generating plants situated on the California coast are being decommissioned. Diablo Canyon nuclear power station is one regulatory hiccough away from its demise. A desalination plant that would have made Orange County completely independent of imported water was struck down last year by the coastal commission. As for offshore rigs harvesting from some of the biggest reservoirs of oil and gas in the world? Shut them down! 

But if you want to stick thousands of floating wind turbines offshore, at stupefying cost, California’s Byzantine bureaucracy and captive taxpayers are here to help.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

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