The interior must ensure responsible offshore wind development

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The Home Office is preparing to sell the first West Coast offshore wind leases in Morro and Humboldt Bays. While that’s good news, it’s critical for the Interior to strike the right balance between greenlighting clean energy projects and protecting the rich and diverse waters off the west coast. The terms of these first West Coast wind leases will set an important precedent for the future of the industry.

At NRDC, we warmly support offshore wind. The pace of climate change is accelerating and we only have a few years to change course. Offshore wind is a promising source of renewable energy, with west coast waters offering significant wind generation potential. Wind energy has an important role to play in California’s future resource mix and will support a transition to reliable, cost-effective and affordable clean energy.

Yet it is essential to ensure that offshore wind proceeds in an environmentally friendly way. Offshore wind is still a new industry, and the kind of technology – floating wind turbines – needed for the deep waters of the west coast, is relatively untested.

The ocean ecosystem off the California coast is particularly dynamic and home to an array of marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and many other species. Our waters also support a valuable fishing industry, as well as the cultural traditions and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples. And many more enjoy the ocean in a myriad of ways. We must ensure that the ocean remains healthy for future generations.

In our comments – developed with other West Coast environmental organizations and filed with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Ocean Energy Management today – we urged the agency to take action to perform a sound analysis of environmental impacts and to ensure that developers comply with conditions that protect the environment.

We recommend Interior conduct a comprehensive environmental review of the effects of offshore wind development along the California coast, including the effects of wind turbine construction and operation. In addition, we recommend that the Department require prospective developers of offshore wind turbines:

  • Comply with lease stipulations to prevent entanglement of marine mammals, sea turtles and other marine life, including designing platform infrastructure to minimize the risk of entanglement and utilizing monitoring systems robust to detect tangles if they occur;
  • Take steps to reduce the risk of ship strikes of large whales and sea turtles, including adhering to a 10-knot vessel speed limit and posting observers on project vessels to help spot species protected in time to avoid a collision;
  • Minimize noise from siting, construction and operation activities;
  • Take steps to protect benthic habitat, including conducting detailed studies during site assessment and construction and operation phases, avoid intentional contact with rock outcrops, seamounts and habitat deep-sea corals/sponges, and where biogenic habitat cannot be avoided, develop a mitigation plan;
  • Engage in robust monitoring, to develop data on bird and bat collisions, use lighting systems that minimize the attraction of birds and bats, and develop strategies to minimize turbine collisions;
  • Contribute to sound scientific research and develop monitoring plans, paying particular attention to understanding impacts on noise, biophysical processes, oceanographic conditions such as upwelling and species movement; and
  • Provide adaptive management and compensatory mitigation plans, to ensure precautionary measures are appropriately adapted as more data becomes available.

We have also asked the Home Office to ensure that the developer incentives used in the lease sale process – offer credits, which make the price of getting a lease much cheaper for the proponent – support environmental and community goals. In particular, we asked Interior to:

  • Increase the bidding credit limit;
  • Create a new bid credit category, which would create a stream of funding for research into the environmental effects of wind development, as well as monitoring best practices and mitigation mechanisms;
  • Structure bid credits for supply chain development and skilled workforce development so that they truly support local economies; and
  • Expand the Community Benefits Agreement offer credit to more clearly support the work of local environmental justice organizations.

This is an exciting time for renewable energy development on the West Coast, with California taking a strong position as a champion and climate leader. We urge the Home Office to develop offshore wind responsibly from the outset and ensure the industry proceeds in an environmentally sustainable way.

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