In California, the wind blows offshore in the fall, and this fall has been especially busy for offshore wind developments. While the Governor’s signing of AB 525 (Chiu) received the most press, other vitally important agencies took steps to move offshore wind development forward, including the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), California Coastal Commission, the Energy Commission, and the State Lands Commission.
- Legislation: AB 525 sets a course for offshore wind in California by requiring the Energy Commission to develop an offshore wind strategic plan by June 30, 2023. It must have at least 5 chapters addressing each of the following:
- identification of seaspace;
- economic and workforce development;
- permitting; and
- potential environmental, cultural, economic and national defense impacts.
By June 1, 2022, the Energy Commission must also set offshore wind megawatt targets for 2030 and 2045, and the law itemizes considerations in setting those targets including manufacturing component needs, renewable power goals long-term transmission infrastructure, workforce development and federal tax incentives.
- California Coastal Commission: At its September meeting, the Coastal Commission held an informational hearing about offshore wind development leasing and development approvals. BOEM and Coastal Commission staff gave detailed presentations (see link) about the timeline and process for the two California coastal locations being reviewed for offshore wind leases: Humboldt and the Central Coast’s Morro Bay Extension Areas. Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, the Coastal Commission has authority to review federal leases and permits for consistency with California’s certified Coastal Management Program. The Coastal Commission will conduct federal consistency review when BOEM issues federal leases, and a second time when BOEM grants construction authority. The Coastal Commission will also consider coastal development permits for any accessory development in the coastal zone, such as the placement of project-to-shore transmission lines.
- BOEM: Over the summer, BOEM issued a call for public and industry input for offshore wind development for the Morro Bay Call Area Extensions, which are the areas off of Morro Bay that will be considered for a competitive leasing process. The comment period ended in mid-September with over 50 comments received. BOEM has also started its NEPA process to conduct a Humboldt Wind Energy Area Environmental Assessment. In 2022, BOEM expects to combine the Humboldt and Morro Bay Areas into a single Proposed Sale Notice for one lease auction.
- Energy Commission: In mid-September, the Energy Commission released a solicitation for $14 million in grant funding for research and development projects for innovative floating offshore wind components. The projects selected should advance the “readiness, performance, reliability, and cost competitiveness” of floating offshore wind components and/or tools. The deadline for submittals is December 15, 2021, and detailed information can be found at the link. Application information required includes project description, schedule, scope of work, budget, CEQA compliance and performance metrics. In October, the Energy Commission held a pre-application workshop, with the research grants to be awarded in 2022.
- State Lands Commission: On October 21, 2022, the State Lands Commission unanimously approved the preparation of environmental impact reports for two proposed offshore wind energy projects near Vandenberg Space Force Base. In 2019, two companies submitted applications to develop a total of approximately 100 megawatts of floating offshore wind capacity. The projects would include onshore transmissions lines and a new substation. After the EIR is prepared, the SLC would still have adopt the EIR and approve the projects. Because these project are in state waters and on federal land, they will have additional review by the Coastal Commission and by the Department of Defense.
Hope Schmeltzer is a partner at Monchamp Meldrum LLP who specializes in CEQA, land use and permitting for clean energy projects. She is a former Chief Counsel of the California Coastal Commission and Director of the Governor’s Clean Energy Green Team.