Offshore Wind Energy Examined for Major Renewable Energy Projects
MORRO BAY, Calif. — California’s power grid continued straining under a heat wave Thursday while a congressional committee met in Morro Bay to consider opportunities for offshore wind energy.
State officials have set lofty goals of transitioning away from fossil fuels for automobiles and electrical generation.
Some lawmakers and local civic leaders wondered during the congressional field hearing whether offshore wind energy can realistically meet California and the nation’s needs for emission-free electricity.
“We don’t have all the answers right now but we do have an opportunity to shape wind energy development,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.
Lowenthal is chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which held the hearing in Morro Bay as the federal government plans to install a major floating wind farm about 20 miles offshore.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has completed a draft environmental assessment for the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area. The next step is a lease sale as soon as this fall to energy companies that would build and operate it.
The central California wind farm would be one more step towards California’s goal of generating five gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 25 gigawatts by 2045. One gigawatt of offshore wind energy can power 350,000 homes with renewable energy.
“California is ready to play a major role in the development of offshore wind,” Lowenthal said.
He added that California could provide the model that helps the entire United States move away from coal and natural gas for electrical generation whose emissions contribute to climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that electrical and heat generation produce one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Wind energy produces no emissions.
The offshore wind energy potential of the United States is nearly double the amount of electricity the nation uses annually, Lowenthal said.
An equally big question addressed at the Morro Bay hearing is whether the enormous costs of offshore wind energy are realistic under existing budgets.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that offshore wind energy is 2.6 times more expensive than onshore wind power and 3.4 times more expensive than power from natural gas–fueled generators.
Offshore wind power costs about 22.15 cents per kilowatt hour, while onshore wind costs 8.66 cents per kilowatt hour and electricity from natural gas generators costs 6.56 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The turbines that convert wind to electricity also create sticker shock. A 14 megawatt offshore wind turbine costs about $12.3 million.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., gave only reluctant support to offshore wind farms as he considered the obstacles.
“One wind turbine can require as much as 10,000 pounds of copper alone,” as well as large amounts of nickel and iron ore, Stauber said.
He mentioned as an example of his concerns an unrealistic energy-saving suggestion he heard for residents of his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, where winter temperatures can drop to 40 degrees below zero.
“I was told that in northern Minnesota we need to take more scooters to work to help with our energy crisis,” Stauber said.
California civic leaders acknowledged the difficulties associated with offshore wind energy but said the dire outlook for climate change leaves no better option.
Jordan Cunningham, a California assemblyman, said extreme heat and rolling blackouts are “going to be a fixture in our lives in California at least for the foreseeable future.”
He added, “It’s imperative on us to look into other options.”
Violet Sage Walker, chairwoman of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, talked about the burdens climate change is creating for California residents.
“We have been fighting problems that we did not create,” she said.
Aaron Bergh, president of Distillers of San Luis Obispo County, said rising energy prices from climate change are hurting some businesses and forcing them to lay off workers.