Public information session

I went to a public information session of the offshore wind project off shore of Morro Bay, hosted by the developer, Seattle-based company Trident Winds Inc. and its joint venture partner, EnBW from Germany.

The speakers presented the progress of this proposed project, which intends to generate up to 1000 MW using 100 12-MW turbines with floating structure technology. Following presentations, they answered questions from the public, which focused on the economic and environmental impact on the local community. According to the developer, this project can not only create local jobs but also invigorate other business activities. Based on pictures of the coastline taken from Hearst Castle, people may see the structure 30 miles off the shore under clear sky with naked eyes but its visual impact (view shed) is pretty minor. Since there isn’t any construction on site, the environmental impact to this region is still unclear. But experiences and studies from other existing offshore wind projects showed that sea birds and marine mammals like whales are smart enough to avoid huge turbines and thick anchors. Even if they don’t collide or become entangled, it is uncertain how animals behave when they don’t use the area the same way as they do. To better understand this topic, more studies are needed.

Since this event was organized by the developer, it is not surprising to hear the positive tone for this project despite of hurdles and unknowns ahead. For example, the conflict of the proposed site and the training routes managed by Department of Defense has not been resolved. Personally, I think that generating 1000 MW production in this proposed site is overly optimistic, considering the latest floating wind technology development on deep ocean and the power loss in operation. But this goal may be realistic years later by the time when the construction begins. Although details were not given in this two-hour meeting, the speakers addressed the positive impact this project can make to the central coast of California. They helped the public to visualize the transformation by using the pictures of the town before and after an offshore wind farm installation in Germany. They also proposed creative ideas of repurposing the stacks of Morro Bay Power Plant to train workers for turbine mainetanence.

Although it’s informal, this meeting provided a chance for the developer and the local community to make a communication. As a researcher on this topic, I learn a lot from the perspectives of the local community and the developer that I should keep in mind in my study.