California offshore wind farms will create massive new economic development at ports

The State of California proposes to build 25 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2045 requiring nearly 1,700 new wind turbines, built at a rate of 92 floating turbines per year, and the Humboldt Bay Harbor District in Northern California wants to be the manufacturing center.

The U.S. government has auctioned off Pacific coast offshore sites for wind development: one off Humboldt Bay, California, and the other off Morro Bay in Central California. As the Pacific Ocean seabed is much steeper than on the Atlantic coast, wind turbines will need to float in up to over 2,000 feet of water and will be located nearly 25 miles off the California coast.

Two lease sites for the development of wind farms off the Humboldt Bay, went for a total $331.5 million in a December U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management auction. The top winning bidders were RWE Offshore Wind Holdings at $157.7 million for 63,338 acres and California North Floating, LLC?at $173.8 million for 69,031 acres, according to the U.S. Interior Department.

In a presentation to the Pacific Coast Congress of Harbor Masters at Eureka, California on April 13th, Rob Holmlund, Director of Development, Humboldt Bay Harbor District, explained the scope of work and his port’s qualifications for the undertaking: “It’s only the Ports of Humboldt Bay and Long Beach that can do this because you have to have the right channel width, channel depth, you can’t have any bridges or airports, and you need big development areas.”

Port of Long Beach Challenge

The Port of Long Beach is proposing a 400-acre state-of-the-art wind turbine manufacturing facility producing floating wind turbines for new California wind farms, according to the Port’s Executive Director Mario Cordero.

Cordero said the proposed ‘Pier Wind’ project would take the Port of Long Beach into a new direction as a wind turbine developer: “The Port is taking a leading role here in becoming … a renewable energy developer.”

In an interview with AJOT last March, Cordero explained the proposed Pier Wind: “Pier Wind … basically commenced with the quest of the State of California for renewable energy we need to do in terms of the gigawatts that we have to obtain by 2045.”

The Pier Wind project is “in the process of a study regarding a design concept and should be completed by late Spring … That will put us on the road to really assess and identify the milestones as we move forward in the next decade to provide the deep water port facility, which could stage the turbines … and distribute them up and down the coast of California for Humboldt and Morro Bay.”

Humboldt Bay Strategy

Holmlund argued that Humboldt Bay is more strategically located because it can support construction of wind farms to the South at Morro Bay and at the two additional sites off the Oregon coast: “You’ve got the Humboldt Offshore wind lease area and the Morro Bay lease area and then you’ve got the two Oregon ones just to the North of us. … We’ve got a 450-mile radius from all of them.”

Holmlund noted the scale of new wind energy generation: “the Biden Harris Administration this past September, announced a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by the year 2030. One gigawatt … is enough to power … about 500,000 homes. Thirty gigawatts will power 15 million homes. It’s also the equivalent of 60 coal-fired power plants. And just for context, the entire planet right now has 35 gigawatts of offshore wind. So, the U.S. government has said, in the next seven years, we’re going to double what the whole world has done.”

California “has a goal of going completely 100% clean electricity by the year 2045, ramping up slowly over a period of time and it’s got a whole portfolio of different energy sources … to get to that goal. So just for example, solar is one of those components. You’ve got utility scale, solar … solar plants and then customer scale solar. You’ve got offshore wind and onshore wind and you can see that the goals for offshore wind were larger than the onshore wind goals … About six months ago, California upped its goals for offshore wind. And instead of having just 10 gigawatts in the year 2045, the State said, ‘let’s have 25 gigawatts by the year 2045.’”

One of the major concerns is California’s detailed permit approval process. Even so, Holmlund is expecting a conclusion of the permitting process in 2024 and construction of wind turbine facilities to begin in 2027: “We’re going through all of the permits anticipating finishing with all of that in the middle of next year with construction starting in 2027.”

Holmund said the wharfs “required here have to be five to 10 times the bearing capacity of a standard shipping container wharf.”

He said the floating platforms that the wind turbines will be built onto “are so large that they are transported across the wharf like a space shuttle, one inch at a time onto a semi-submersible barge that sinks underneath of it. It’s then floating.”

At the dock where the turbines will be assembled a “600 to 800-foot-tall crane puts it all together…”

Equipment Challenges

The wind turbine sizes are expected to increase: “We are planning now for the coming generation which is 15 to 20 megawatt turbines … There’s a lot of parts to make — we’ve got blades, nacelles, [The nacelle is a cover housing that houses all of the generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train, etc.] the tower, the floater, the mooring lines that connect them to the ocean floor … and the transmission cables. All of that needs to be manufactured.”

Holmlund gave examples of the huge new manufacturing capability to accommodate California’s 25-gigawatt wind energy plan. One example is the mooring lines that will secure the floating turbines to the ocean floor:

  • Each turbine has three mooring lines, which is 5,000 lines.
  • Each one of those lines is 3,000 feet long.
  • This means “you will need 15 million feet or about 2,800 miles of mooring lines.”
  • None of these mooring lines are currently being manufactured: “So this is a whole new industry that needs to be produced.”
  • There will need to be nearly 1,700 floating platforms to keep the towers and blades above the ocean and waves.
  • 1,600 nacelles will need to be manufactured.
  • There will also need to be 5,000 blades built.
  • And 1 million feet of towers to hold the blades
  • And “miles and miles of transmission cables.”
  • All of this “needs to be manufactured and it all is new industry that needs to be created on the West Coast.”

In terms of component manufacturing:

  • The blades “are gigantic, too large to fit inside of a baseball stadium at 500 feet long, but they can still be manufactured next to the water and transported from just about anywhere in the world.”
  • The towers “come in smaller sections so they can be transported from anywhere.”
  • The nacelles “can be transported from anywhere as long as they’re on a ship.”
  • But the floaters “have to be manufactured relatively close to where they’re deployed.”

New U.S. Built Vessel Capacity

Holmlund said that everything “has to be transported by ship. It literally cannot be transported across the land, which means everything needs to be manufactured in a port next to the water.”

He said that this is the model that was developed for offshore wind farms in Europe and is being developed for new wind farms on the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Component manufacturing “is too large to do anywhere other than right next to a port.”

This will require U.S. built support vessels and U.S. crews:

  • Three tugboats will be required to tow a floating wind turbine.
  • There will need to be new helicopter pilots and technicians that every day must go out and maintain this equipment.
  • There will be drone pilots to oversee the wind turbines
  • There will be divers and probably underwater drone pilots to check the underwater structures
  • Holmlund explained there’ll be crew transfer vessels “which might have a 16 foot to 30 foot draft and be 200 feet long. A lot of ports can support this.”

Overall: “As it gets into commercial development, we expect eight to 10 vessels coming into ports as well as helicopters, service operation vessels … and then a lot of vessels will just be offshore most of the time, rarely coming into port.”

There is concern “that fishing nets that are … lost and currently drifting in the ocean will get tangled up in those mooring lines and then whales will get tangled up in the nets. And so, they did an analysis looking at the density of blue whales that far off the coast and where whales tend to migrate.”

The impact on birds is that “in some species there is no threat of being impacted by the turbines out that far. Studies have focused on a dozen different bird species and some of them can be impacted and some of them won’t. But we’re talking 20 to 30 miles offshore. And so, the migratory patterns are much different than the land-based turbine. Offshore wind turbines … won’t really spin and so the impact on birds depends on which species you’re talking about.”

Stas Margaronis

Stas Margaronis