By Benjamin Purper
The House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee held a hearing at the Morro Bay Community Center on Thursday to hear testimony on the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area. Committee members cited the need to hear input from all stakeholders, with the lease sale for the development expected this fall.
The project would put floating offshore wind turbines in the waters off Morro Bay. It’s in the permitting process with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) right now.
Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham was one of the local officials who gave testimony. He said he believes offshore wind will be critical in helping California avoid blackouts like the ones that have hit the state during this week’s heat wave.
“We've seen rolling blackouts, we've seen flex alerts. We've seen all these various things. I think that's going to be part of our life in California for the foreseeable future,” Cunningham said.
“[It] imparts that additional sense of urgency to do what we need to do — to make sure we can get offshore wind working for Californians and use that to shore up our grid reliability,” he said.
Cunningham said wind energy could help replace fossil fuels in the state’s energy portfolio, especially as the state has committed to ambitious carbon neutrality goals.
“If we were able to build out the storage capacity in conjunction with offshore wind and other forms of renewable energy, we could achieve the goal we set for ourselves of having a completely renewable energy grid by the year 2045,” he said.
SLO County Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold brought up concerns she has heard from her constituents, ranging from the wind energy project's potential impact on wildlife to how much onshore infrastructure it would require.
“I understand California has an energy shortage that needs to be addressed, and I believe a wind energy farm off our coast could help solve this bipartisan challenge — but only if we consider the public's concerns,” she said.
Arnold brought up that offshore wind development would now coincide with the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, which is now likely to happen in 2030 rather than its previously-scheduled end date of 2025.
“I find it challenging to promote policy that forces the closure of a locally operating nuclear power plant while simultaneously advocating for the construction of [a] wind farm,” Arnold said. "Ultimately, the citizen taxpayers will be paying millions of dollars to decommission Diablo Canyon and millions of dollars more to construct a wind farm.”
Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker called for inclusion of indigenous people in the wind energy project. She said the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the Central Coast would be an important complement to offshore wind in Morro Bay.
“Ocean conservation is equally as important as renewable energy, and must be advanced simultaneously and with the same commitment," Walker said. "This commitment means designating the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, and also means greater support for ocean conservation efforts from the federal state and offshore wind companies. We need to be all in for both things."
She also called for the land and ocean that the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area and Diablo Canyon sit on to be returned to indigenous tribes.
“These lands should be preserved and returned to the tribes for restoration and participation in the blue economy. We should not be made to wait another three generations to reclaim our sites in Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon,” Walker said. “Let's negotiate now that the land be restored and returned to the tribes, and not leave our status uncertain for a minute longer."
Development of the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area is still in process, and it would take several years before there are turbines in the water.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has recordings of this year's virtual hearings on their website, with archived public comment from local, state and national callers.