20 Feb 19
The offshore wind industry could support almost 18,000 new jobs in California, according to a new report.
The sector is projected to grow as the cost of production falls overtime with generation efficiency estimates “two to three times that of solar, nearly twice that of land-based wind, and even greater than that of coal.”
The report, which focuses on the potential economic impact offshore wind could have on California’s economy, was put together by the American Jobs Project along with several other partners including Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center. The initial phases of offshore wind development are in motion, with two projects proposed off California’s coast, the report stated. One of the projects, led by the Redwood Community Energy Authority, is eyeing an area off Humboldt County’s coast.
“It’s an exciting thing that could be a really great for our harbor and the immediate area,” said Lori Biondini, director of business planning and finance at RCEA. “There are a lot of possibilities … we’re definitely focused on maximizing that.”
Biondini said it’s a bit early to really understand the impacts offshore wind might hold, which underscores the value of studies that explore the industry’s potential.
“Lot of things need to be worked out,” she said. “There are a lot of examples as to how it could play out.”
The report is just the beginning, according to Mary Collins, managing director of the American Jobs Project and lead author of the report.
“It’s really the kindling to ignite a broader conversation,” she said. “It’s up to us as Californians on the local level and on the state level to start having a conversation about what we want this industry to look like.”
Offshore wind has the power to provide California with 1.5 times the amount of electricity the state currently uses, the report states, with projected annual growth of 25 percent until 2022. The industry holds the potential to help the state make leaps and bounds towards meeting its goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045, Collins said, but doing so will require a unified vision if Californians hope to see a full return from the potential of offshore wind. According to the report, if fully utilized, California’s “offshore generation potential could exceed New York and New Jersey,” which have already made “significant investment in the technology.”
Jason Busch, executive director of the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust, one of the partners in the study, emphasized the importance of a focused vision, particularly when it comes to something as complex as the offshore wind industry.
“Engagement early and often is not just a mantra, it’s a necessity,” he said. “We hope California’s government and its leadership will recognize and seriously consider what this opportunity is for California.”
The industry would create a massive new sector for California, Busch said, which could include several “supply chain activities,” including manufacturing, installation, operation, maintenance, service and decommissioning.
Moving forward, the study goes on to suggest five policy recommendations including a phased approach to offshore wind workforce development, infrastructure upgrades and the appointment of a “California Offshore Wind Czar” to “create and lead a vision for growth that aligns with the values of Californians and to serve as the primary point of contact for California’s strategic offshore wind efforts.”
“We’re not talking about the extractive industries of yesteryear,” Busch said. “We’re talking about a modern, independent operation in the clean energy sector.”
Humboldt Bay Harbor District executive director Larry Oetker said an offshore wind project like the one in development with RCEA could mean big changes for the area.
“It’s one of the most exciting projects that we have seen come to Humboldt Bay in years … probably since the 60s or 70s,” he said. “It has the opportunity to completely transform the port of Humboldt and to bring national, state and international investment in for clean high-paying jobs that are really in the forefront of the green energy field.”
The state has deep coastal waters with some of the highest wind speeds in the country, the report states. But the winds off of Humboldt County’s coast have been described by many as world class, and Oetker believes Humboldt’s port is uniquely situated to foot what he hopes will be a booming industry.
“There are no obstructions over the entrance of Humboldt Bay,” he said, noting that not even the Golden Gate Bridge is tall enough to pass a wind turbine under. “If you go to all the ports up and down the West Coast, they all have bridges or obstructions with the exception of Humboldt Bay … and we also have land for this type of activity.”
Oetker said the harbor district is working with the local community to begin preparations to host the offshore wind industry, including the development of a multi-purpose dock. If it doesn’t happen here, Oetker said, it’ll happen somewhere else, so the region should prepare either way.
“This is exactly the type of business Humboldt County should embrace and encourage,” he said. “The harbor district will be working on this project diligently.”
Mark Severy, who works with the Schatz Energy Research Center, said they primarily provided technical assistance with the report.
In an email to the Times-Standard, Severy said SERC “is beginning work on a feasibility analysis of offshore wind in Northern California,” which will be a year-long project commencing in the spring.
“We are studying many of the issues surrounding offshore wind development in Northern California, which includes the environmental impacts, port infrastructure modifications, stakeholder benefits and concerns, and current policy constraints and recommendations,” he said. “It’s important that we look at all the surrounding issues and consider various stakeholder viewpoints in order to provide policymakers and developers accurate information about the benefits and concerns of offshore wind development in our region.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.