The California coast is home to some of the best offshore wind resources in the country. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that California's coast has a resource potential of 201,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind. This power source is expected to play a major role if the state is to achieve its ambitious goals for 100 percent clean electricity and carbon neutrality by 2045 or earlier. Offshore wind development offers significant economic benefit as well. Analysis from the University of California estimates that 10,000 MW of installed offshore wind capacity in California by 2040 would stimulate a total of 97,000 to 195,000 job-years between 2020 and 2040 for the construction of the wind facilities, and another 4,000 to 4,500 annual operation jobs starting in the year 2040.
Over the past year, California and federal lawmakers have begun paving the way toward offshore wind development in the state. California's various energy regulatory agencies have begun incorporating significant offshore wind resources into the state's planning forecasts. Federal regulators recently issued the first offshore wind leases off the California coast and have taken steps to catalyze offshore wind energy development.
Building on 2022's progress, last week the Biden Administration announced that California was joining the Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership to build an American supply chain and skilled workforce for offshore wind. The following day, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) voted to recommend that the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) study a high-wind sensitivity portfolio as part of its 2023-2024 Transmission Planning Process.
Recent Strides Toward Offshore Wind Development in California
Developments in 2022
The year 2022 saw significant California regulatory action to accelerate offshore wind development in the state. For example:
- In February 2022, the CPUC adopted an electric sector GHG planning target of 35 million metric tons (MMT) by 2032 and a "preferred system portfolio" as part of its integrated resources planning process. For the first time, the new preferred system plan portfolio includes offshore wind resources, demonstrating the CPUC's faith in offshore wind's increased viability as cost-effective resource to help meet state goals.
- In May 2022, the CAISO published its first 20-Year Transmission Outlook to inform transmission planning focused on meeting the California's 100 percent clean electricity and carbon neutrality goals. The outlook identified a need for significant transmission development to access offshore wind called for in state resource plans.
- In August 2022, pursuant to Assembly Bill 525 (Chiu 2021), the California Energy Commission (CEC) adopted ambitious preliminary planning goals for development of 2,000-5,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030 and 25,000 MW by 2045.
- In November 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a new Scoping Plan, a sector-by-sector roadmap for California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 or earlier. The updated Scoping Plan calls for 20,000 MW of offshore wind by 2045, based on Governor Newsom's original recommendation to the CEC. It appears that the CEC's 25,000 MW goal was announced too late to be incorporated into CARB's Scoping Plan.
The federal government has also taken recent steps to advance offshore wind development in California. In December 2022, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hosted the first-ever auction of federal leases for commercial-scale wind projects on the Outer Continental Shelf in the waters of Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay. Five companies secured rights to develop wind turbines across 373,268 acres. The Department of the Interior has estimated that these leases could produce 4,600 MW of energy, whereas industry experts have estimated that the leases could produce upwards of 7,000-8,000 MW of energy, which would represent around one-third of the CEC's 2045 offshore wind target. According to a report by E2, the development of these two offshore areas would lead to a conservative estimate of nearly 169,000 construction job-years and about 5,750 annual operations and maintenance jobs, with upwards of $15 billion in local wages. The total economic benefit to California would be $45 billion.
Developments in 2023
The push for California offshore wind continues in 2023.
On February 22, 2023, the Biden Administration welcomed California to the Federal-State Partnership to build America's supply chain and increase the skilled workforce for offshore wind. This is part of the Biden Administration's target of deploying 30,000 MW of offshore wind in the United States by 2030, with 15,000 MW specifically of floating offshore wind by 2035. Due to the deep waters in the Western Outer Continental Shelf, California offshore wind projects will require floating turbines.
On February 23, 2023, the CPUC adopted a decision recommending electricity resource portfolios to the CAISO to study in its 2023-2024 Transmission Planning (TPP) Process. In the TPP Process, the CAISO is expected to identify and authorize transmission development needed to accommodate new renewable resource capacity expected to be built to meet California's 30 MMT greenhouse gas target for the electricity generation sector, as required by the CARB's Scoping Plan. The CPUC's recommended base case portfolio anticipates 1,600 MW of offshore wind in 2032, increasing to 4,700 MW in 2035. This capacity would be divided between Morro Bay and Humboldt call areas, aligning with the recent awards of federal leases in those areas.
The decision also requests that the CAISO analyze an "offshore wind sensitivity portfolio" that contemplates far greater offshore wind development in the coming decade: 7,600 MW in 2033 and 13,400 MW in 2035. The CPUC recommends that the CAISO use the results of its analysis to guide optimal transmission development on the California North Coast. However, some parties note that the CPUC's offshore wind sensitivity portfolio is conservative compared to the CEC's recent 25,000 MW planning goal.
With state and federal lawmakers paving the way for development, offshore wind is poised to play an important role in achieving the state's climate goals while providing significant economic benefits.
*Thank you to Ananya Sreekanth for her contribution to this post. Ananya is a Law Clerk with DWT’s Energy practice. Ananya graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Political Economy and is currently a law student at UC Law San Francisco.