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First California Offshore Wind Auction Nets Over $750 Million

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Wind turbines at sea.
Wind turbines generate electricity at the Block Island Wind Farm, the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, on July 7, 2022, near Block Island, Rhode Island. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finalized the sale of offshore wind leases along California’s coastline Wednesday, with the combined bids totaling $757.1 million, which the agency says well exceeds the first lease sales that were held in the Atlantic.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s auction lasted for more than 30 rounds over the course of two days, as developers bid aggressively for five lease areas totaling more than 500 square miles both northwest of Morro Bay and off the coast of Humboldt County.

Department Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement that the aggressive bidding is a signal of industry momentum around American offshore wind.

“A sustainable, clean energy future is within our grasp and the Interior Department is doing everything we can to ensure that American communities nationwide benefit,” Haaland said.

The auction is a crucial step toward a new source of clean power for California.

The federal government estimates that floating turbines that harness energy from powerful winds could power more than 1.5 million homes, and development of these turbines could create tons of new jobs.

“Tens of thousands of jobs from construction phase to operation and maintenance and supply chain,” Jeff Hunerlach, a district representative with Operating Engineers Local 3 in Humboldt County, told KQED in an interview. “It’s such a historical day. The work starts now. Now, we know who the companies are. We know where our energy is to zero in on, making sure that we put Californians to work.”

Industry analysts say the winning developers are well-known companies in the fledgling offshore wind industry.

Map of California coastline showing parcels leased for wind turbines
The federal government auctioned off leases for wind production in 583 square miles of deep ocean waters, located about 20 miles offshore of Humboldt County and Morro Bay. Combined, the five lease zones have the potential to produce more than 4.5 gigawatts, enough to power roughly 1.5 million homes. (Associated Press, using data from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)

“These are established players, the developers that the leases are in the hands of,” said Stephanie McClellan, executive director of the offshore wind nonprofit Turn Forward, in an interview with KQED. “They’ve already got leases on the East Coast and these leases are in good hands. California West Coast offshore wind is off to the races.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom described the wind lease sale as a “critical component” of the state hitting its goal of 90% clean energy by 2035. “Together with leadership from the Biden-Harris Administration, we’re entering a new era of climate action and solutions that give our planet a new lease on life,” Newsom said in a statement.

But commercial fishers have urged federal and state regulatory agencies to slow down the process, fearing impacts to their business.

“Fishermen are not opposed to renewable energy,” Ken Bates, president of the California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association, told KQED in an interview. “Fishermen see what’s going on in the ocean. We see warm-water events, species shift, all of those things. Fishermen are opposed to losing the very limited fishing grounds in California. That’s our concern.”

Developers must now submit design, construction and operation plans to California and to the federal government for review and permitting.

Climate Central’s John Upton contributed to this report.

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