A Strong Start to California's Offshore Wind Plans

A new report by the California Energy Commission (CEC) finds that California has the potential to build almost 25 GW of offshore wind, enough to power more than 25 million homes in PG&E territory by 2045. 5 GW of this amount could be built by 2030.

Jessica Russo/NRDC

Although these planning targets are a big step forward in the offshore wind strategic planning initiated by Assembly Bill (AB) 525, these targets must be updated after the CEC completes comprehensive sea space and environmental analyses to ensure that offshore wind development doesn’t harm our precious marine ecosystems.

AB 525 requires the CEC, in coordination with a wide variety of stakeholders and other agencies, to accomplish at least three more tasks: conduct a preliminary assessment of the economic benefits, complete a permitting roadmap, and submit a strategic plan.

NRDC supports the AB 525 planning process because it requires responsible offshore wind development, which offers a tremendous opportunity to fight climate change, reduce local and regional air pollution, advance environmental justice, and grow a new industry that will provide tens of thousands of well-paying jobs in both coastal and inland communities. In addition, offshore wind offers reliability benefits as its generation profile complements solar and onshore wind, so the technology is also attractive from a system planning perspective.

Maximum feasible capacity and planning goals

The report answers to the AB525 mandate that requires the CEC (i) to evaluate and quantify the maximum feasible capacity of offshore wind to achieve reliability, keep utility bills in check, and create employment and decarbonization benefits, and (ii) to establish planning goals for 2030 and 2045. These planning goals should reflect how much of the maximum feasible capacity the state could build after accounting for environmental and other practical constraints like port availability.

The report set initial reference points, instead of final numbers and targets, because the CEC didn’t have time to complete all the analyses required by AB 525. While this approach makes sense for now, the CEC must complete the full analysis required by AB 525 to comply with its legal obligations. Key elements of the pending analyses are (i) potential impacts on coastal resources, fisheries, Native American and Indigenous peoples, and national defense, and strategies for addressing those potential impacts, and (ii) suitable sea space for wind energy areas in federal waters sufficient to accommodate the offshore wind planning goals for 2030 and 2045.

For the maximum feasible capacity, the CEC evaluated studies that estimate 21.8 GW of offshore wind technical potential in federal waters off the California coast based on wind speed, ocean depth, ocean’s bottom slope, distance to grid interconnections, and distance to existing port infrastructure. The CEC set the 21.8 GW estimate as a reference point for technically feasible capacity and explained that the number will be refined as the CEC continues to evaluate sea space, additional technical assessments of transmission and grid integration strategies, port infrastructure, and potential environmental impacts.

For the planning goals, the CEC established a preliminary planning goal range of 2 GW – 5 GW of offshore wind for 2030, and a preliminary planning goal of 25 GW for 2045. According to the CEC, “these preliminary planning goals are designed to be potentially achievable but aspirational and are established at levels that can contribute significantly to achieving California’s climate goals” and may be refined as more information becomes available from the pending analyses.

Next steps

In addition to completing the pending analyses for the maximum feasible capacity and planning goals for offshore wind, the CEC needs to develop at least three more work products under AB 525:

  • On or before December 31, 2022, the CEC shall complete and submit to the Natural Resources Agency and the relevant fiscal and policy committees of the Legislature a preliminary assessment of the economic benefits of offshore wind as they relate to seaport investments and workforce development needs and standards.
  • On or before December 31, 2022, the CEC shall complete and submit a permitting roadmap to the Natural Resources Agency and the relevant fiscal and policy committees of the Legislature.
  • On or before June 30, 2023, the CEC shall submit a strategic plan to the Natural Resources Agency and the Legislature.

Those are not easy tasks. They are time and resource intensive and will require not only the CEC’s full commitment to comply with AB 525, but also stakeholder engagement and input to make sure the CEC is on track with its legal obligations.

Conclusion

NRDC will continue to engage with the CEC and help California achieve its economywide decarbonization goals in an environmentally responsible and cost-effective manner. Paired with the right policies, we believe that this work is a crucial step towards a cleaner, more reliable, equitable, and affordable grid.

About the Authors

Julia de Lamare

Clean Energy Advocate, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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