California’s Historic Offshore Wind Energy Auction Brings $400M So Far

Bidding for prime ocean real estate to float turbines is nearing the half billion mark in the first-ever West Coast wind auction

California’s carbon-free electricity wave is moving waterwards following the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management auction on Tuesday for leasing rights on up to 583 square miles of ocean water to be used to build offshore wind farms.

As Cal Matters reports, the auction, the first of its kind on the West Coast, saw 20 rounds of bidding and netted $402 million so far, with the action resuming on Wednesday and, although the mega-million dollar net is relatively small compared to the $4.37 billion paid for similar leases off the New York and New Jersey coasts, it’s still a significant marker of both the competitive nature of the carbon-free electrical industry and the West Coast’s commitment to cleaner power. 

The offshore waters up for grabs are capable of producing power for approximately 1.5 million homes, and could host several hundred turbines. Of the five sites open to bids, the lowest was close to $63 million for 98 square miles off the coast of Humboldt County, while 125 square miles off Morro Bay garnered bidding that reached just over $100 million. 

Though we won’t know who has won the prime oceanic real estate until late Wednesday, 43 companies were eligible to bid. Construction likely won’t start for another five or six years, though companies will have to begin balancing a number of complex factors before jumping in. Among other things, there is the potential impact on threatened and endangered marine species, the cost of construction, and the planning required to build the turbines while also finding a way to bring the energy to shore.

In an interview with KCRA, Offshore Wind California executive director Adam Stern noted what makes the offshore California projects unique. California’s ocean depths will require the wind farms to be floating, making them the first floating offshore wind farms in the U.S. and the first offshore wind farms on the West Coast altogether.

“The main benefit is that offshore wind draws from more powerful and more consistent winds,” Stern said. “And if you look at the state now, many of the best onshore locations have already been taken.” 

The need to find creative alternatives is part and parcel with California’s efforts to bolster more sustainable development. Whether banning gas stations to combat climate crisis, banning the sale of new gasoline cars in an effort to move towards electric vehicles by 2035, or even looking into lighter-colored roads and roofs to offset California heat, the state is no stranger to environmentally-conscious innovation. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom noted just how critical offshore wind in particular will be in achieving California’s clean energy goals. “Together with leadership from the Biden-Harris Administration,” he said in a statement. “We’re entering a new era of climate action and solutions that give our planet a new lease on life.”

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