While the project is not likely to be operational until the mid-2020s at the earliest, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority is moving forward with what could be the first commercial floating offshore wind farm in the United States.
Many questions remain unanswered about the Eureka, California-based local government joint powers agency's ambitious plan. But for now, the "GO" sign is flashing.
"The project is very early in the planning process," said Lori Biondini, director of business development and planning for the Authority. "Everybody is on board with pursuing the project."
Why? Well, there are several reasons.
Eureka is the county seat of sparsely populated Humboldt County on the far north coast of California, about 270 miles north of San Francisco. The county boasts 110 miles of coastline, the most in California, hugging the Pacific Ocean.
Wind speeds are excellent - averaging 30 to 32 feet per second - some 20 miles off Humboldt's coast where several platforms housing enough wind turbines to generate 100 MW to 150 MW would be anchored to the ocean bottom, roughly 2,000 to 3,000 feet below the surface.
Indeed, Biondini said you would have to look long and hard to find a better wind resource in the US, and probably would fail in the endeavor.
The project "would be the first commercial floating offshore wind farm in the United States," she said. "It's exciting. It also happens to be located in the north coast of California where we have world-class wind resources."
On March 28, the Authority selected a consortium of companies comprised of Principle Power Inc., EDPR Offshore North America LLC, Aker Solutions Inc., H.T. Harvey & Associates and Herrera Environmental Consultants to enter into a public/private partnership to pursue development of the project.
During the remaining months of 2018, the Authority plans to negotiate an official partnership agreement with the consortium and submit an "unsolicited" project application to the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management because the project would be located in federal waters.
Although the federal agency has not formally opened the waters to offshore wind development, "the agency has a process where you can submit an unsolicited application," Biondini noted.
After the application is submitted, the federal agency is expected to launch a process to see if there are competing interests in developing such a project. If there are, "we'll have to go through a competitive process to secure the site," she added.
All of that will take time, considerable time, most likely. That is why the Authority is tentatively targeting the wind farm to start commercial operation around 2025, a timeline Biondini acknowledged is "ambitious."
Offshore wind projects, of course, are not new in the US. Several have been proposed, mostly for the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern shore. The Authority's project would be different because it would float.
Eastern offshore wind projects would be sited closer to shore largely because of the continental shelf, an underwater land mass that extends out from most states along the Eastern Seaboard.
The Pacific Ocean, however, gets much deeper quicker once you leave the northern California coast.
Joao Metelo, president and CEO of Principle Power, said the Authority's project "can represent a game changer for the industry in the US. The establishment of a public-private partnership with a community-based energy provider like RCEA represents a unique opportunity to develop a project with strong foundations from the get-go, and to build a comprehensive launching pad for a successful industry in the West Coast."
Principle Power focuses on the offshore deepwater wind energy market. The company says floating offshore wind projects can have lower costs, in part because they eliminate the need for specialized and expensive installation vessels, and pose minimal environmental and ecological impacts to the sea bed.
So far, the project has not generated any formal opposition. Biondini said the Authority intends over the coming days and weeks to keep busy with community outreach and holding meetings with interested stakeholders. The California Energy Commission has scheduled a stakeholder meeting for April 18 with a larger workshop planned for April 20.
The Authority also will need to cooperate with the US Department of Defense "to make sure we don't interfere with any of their activities," she said.
The Redwood Coast Energy Authority serves about 50,000 customers within its jurisdiction, which includes Humboldt County and the cities of Arcata, Blue Lake, Eureka, Ferndale, Fortuna, Rio Dell and Trinidad.