The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has scheduled two virtual scoping meetings to help the public provide input about the recently designated Morro Bay Wind Energy Area before the Jan. 11 public comment deadline.

Located about 17 miles almost due west of San Simeon, the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area selected by the bureau encompasses 399 square miles of ocean that officials say could support enough wind turbines to generate 3 gigawatts of electricity that could enter the state energy grid using existing transmission facilities in Morro Bay.

The bureau selected the Morro Bay area over another potential location, the larger nearly square Diablo Canyon Wind Energy Area to the south that could use transmission lines already in place for Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

But offshore wind proponents have said the Morro Bay area will still have economic benefits for Santa Barbara County through hundreds of high-paying jobs as well as housing, goods and services to support the workforce and the project itself.

Local officials believe such a project could help offset the revenue that will be lost when Pacific Gas and Electric Co. decommissions the nuclear-powered Diablo Canyon facility — $35 million in tax revenue to San Luis Obispo County plus jobs averaging $89,000 a year for hundreds of workers in both SLO and Santa Barbara counties.

“The economic potential is clear, but making it a reality will take considerable coordination between government and industry at the local, state and national level,” Stephen Hamilton, a Cal Poly professor and lead author of an economic impact study for offshore wind energy, said in May following its release.

The study commissioned by REACH, the Regional Economic Action Commission, found a 3-gigawatt offshore wind farm would generate 650 well-paying jobs and a $262-million combined impact on San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

A specialized port also would be required to handle the wind farm’s construction, maintenance and repairs, and the Cal Poly study found constructing such a port would result in 2,411 jobs per year and an annual economic impact of $412 million over a five-year period.

“The analysis made abundantly clear that the economic benefits associated with offshore wind take place at a specialized wind port,” Melissa James, chief executive officer of REACH, said after the report was released.

“Without a specialized wind port on the Central Coast, the economic potential will not be realized here,” she said.

While offshore wind energy farms are more common in Europe, they only captured interest in the United States within the last couple of decades, with the five-turbine 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island beginning power generation in 2016.

The Block Island turbines are directly mounted to the ocean bottom, but the seafloor off California drops precipitously — the minimum ocean depth in the Morro Bay WEA is 900 meters and ranges up to 1,300 meters.

For that reason, officials are planning for a system of floating wind turbines that would be moored to the seafloor, and the electricity they generate would be routed via underwater cables to a floating substation.

Power would be transmitted down from there to a seafloor cable that would deliver the energy to an onshore substation, where the power would be fed into the state’s electrical grid.

However, before any sites are leased and a specialized port is developed, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management must conduct an environmental assessment that will consider the potential impacts of not only the project but also the processes used to determine the site’s suitability.

Those range from biological, archaeological, geological and geophysical surveys to core sampling and the installation of meteorological buoys.

The bureau will also look at potential conflicts with existing ocean uses like shipping, the viewshed and commercial and sport fishing and the impacts on avian and marine mammal species.

To assist in preparing the environmental assessment, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials are looking for public comments about the proposed project to be included in that report.


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