Oct. 25–The Trump administration, authors of a destructive plan to open California’s coastal waters to oil drilling, is suddenly offering a new vision for the state’s shoreline — floating windmills. Given the president’s fondness for fossil fuels, it’s a surprising proposal. But it’s worth exploring if the effects on fisheries, marine mammals and birds can be mitigated.
The Interior Department is seeking bids on leases for three wind power projects that would cover more than 1,000 square miles. One site is off Eureka in Humboldt County. Two are on the Central Coast off San Luis Obispo County, one extending west of San Simeon and Cambria at the southern tip of Big Sur, and the other from Morro Bay south, past the Santa Barbara Line.
Supporters say California’s long coastline is ideal for wind development because ocean winds pick up as the sun sets, positioning wind power to take over where solar power leaves off. The offshore windmills could supplement solar farms and land-based turbines and help California meet its goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
Prospective bidders are already emerging. Redwood Coast Energy, a government-run utility that serves Humboldt County and seven cities, has plans for a 75-square-mile project that would generate power for more than 70,000 households. Other companies active in the United States and abroad say they’re interested, too.
There are concerns that must be addressed first, however. The view from the coastline is important to tourists, as well as the people who call the coast home. Can the wind farms be set far enough offshore or engineered in some way to make them less intrusive?
Environmental groups also raise compelling questions about the potential harm to wildlife. If placed further from shore, the towering turbines, which can rise hundreds of feet high, would pose less risk to migratory birds and seals, but they may be a threat to seabirds and whales.
Unfortunately, as longtime offshore drilling opponent Richard Charter of Bodega Bay points out, the Trump administration seems “allergic to doing the science” to ensure wind power is implemented safely.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he is “very bullish” about wind power, but the president’s support may be wobbly, at best. At a fundraiser in August, Donald Trump praised the future of coal and mocked windmills as “a killing field” for birds. He became a foe of wind farms when one was proposed near a golf course he wanted to establish in Scotland. His opposition played out in more than 100 tweets.
A more thoughtful, factual assessment is needed, and valuable guidance might be found in demonstration projects off the coasts of Scotland, Denmark and Norway. In the United States, research and planning for offshore wind in New York, Massachusetts and Maine might offer insights on mitigation.
The projects off our coast will have to win approval from numerous local, state and federal agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Each should proceed with open minds but analyze the potential trade-offs carefully. Renewable power can’t extract too high a price from the environment it’s intended to protect.
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