California Enacts Plan for Smart Offshore Wind Development

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed groundbreaking legislation to kick-start smart offshore wind energy development in waters offshore California—a critical component to achieving California’s clean energy goals. Assembly Bill (AB) 525, by Assembly member Chiu, was signed into law on September 23rd and sets the stage for how floating offshore wind technology is deployed in the United States.

AB 525 requires the state to assert how it will develop this new industry responsibly, in a way that protects local biodiversity, fully engages stakeholders early in the planning process, includes meaningful Tribal consultation and input, and uses California labor to revamp ports and build offshore wind infrastructure. At a time when the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises are acute and California seeks to build an equitable future for all, AB 525 is a visionary blueprint for how we could choose a climate safe and just future that respects wildlife and people.

The vehicles for executing this vision are two milestones that the California Energy Commission (CEC) will meet working in close coordination with other key agencies. First, CEC will create offshore wind energy goals by estimating the maximum amount of offshore wind that should be a part of California’s energy mix to cost-effectively get to our 2030 and 2045 clean energy goals, while creating quality clean energy jobs. The deadline for setting the offshore wind goals is June 2022. Second, AB 525 requires that CEC, working with relevant state agencies, develop a strategic plan to develop this amount of offshore wind energy off California’s coast. This strategy will include the following five chapters and will be completed by June 2023:

  • Identification of sea space to develop offshore wind that includes consideration of wind resource potential, port and transmission infrastructure, and protection of cultural and biological resources. Crucially, this chapter says that the state must prioritize least-conflict ocean areas;
  • Recommendations to upgrade the state’s ports and other infrastructure required to support an in-state offshore wind industry;
  • Transmission investments and upgrades needed to deliver offshore wind generated electricity to Californians;
  • A permitting roadmap that clearly articulates all necessary state and federal regulatory processes;
  • Potential impacts of this development on marine ecosystems, fisheries, Native American and indigenous communities, and strategies for addressing these impacts.

As the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) races to meet President Biden’s goal of having 30 GW of offshore wind in the United States by 2030, AB 525 emboldens the state of California to define how to meet the challenge of developing a new industry at scale quickly, in a way that minimizes impacts to local biodiversity and maximizes benefits to Californians. BOEM intends to announce the first lease sales in federal waters offshore California in late Spring/early Summer of 2022. The next several months are a critical time for CEC to initiate an intensive stakeholder engagement process and urge BOEM to select “least conflict” sites for initial developments.

As we have written previously, an in-state offshore wind industry could create thousands of well-paying clean energy jobs and speed the transition away from fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions. Yet, rapidly scaling up a new industry in California’s ecologically rich offshore waters must also be done right, with care taken from the very beginning to build in protections for the marine environment. AB 525’s requirements are the first step in this journey.

About the Authors

Sandy Aylesworth

Senior Oceans Advocate, Pacific Oceans Initiative, Oceans Division, Nature Program

Mohit Chhabra

Senior Scientist, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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