To fight climate change, California needs to plug into offshore wind

By Dan Jacobson, Special to CalMatters

We all saw Greta Thunberg’s eyes. We saw her face. We heard her voice quivering as she urged the members of the United Nations last week to do more to fight back against the ravages of climate change.  

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” the teenage Swedish activist said. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing…How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions?”

As global temperatures rise, bringing with it the fury of a generation that will have to live with the consequences, we know we need to do more—we must do more—to fight this existential crisis.

Even in California, where we have already set some of the world’s most aggressive climate goals, our 100% carbon-free targets and plans for millions of electric vehicles are only part of what’s necessary to reckon with the social and moral issues we face. 

If California is going to do everything it can to fight back against climate change—and serve as a model for the rest of the world—that means tapping all of the resources at our disposal.

To slow the spread of forest fires, drought, and rising sea levels, we need to accelerate every one of our clean energy strategies. 

We need to tap the lithium ion in the Salton Sea and use it to power tens of millions more electric cars. We need to develop more battery storage so we can harness the sun’s power day and night—and electrify our buildings and transportation networks. 

We also need to expand our horizons and find a way to harness the wind off our coast to power an electric grid that will rely more than ever on clean, renewable energy.

California already gets more than a third of its power from our state’s vast quantities of sun, wind, and geothermal energy resources. But we have even more clean energy waiting for us 25 miles off the coast. We need to go and get it.

This is the opportunity—and the challenge—bringing an international group of energy experts to San Francisco this week for a conference on how to tap the huge amounts of wind energy blowing across the Pacific Rim. 

It’s also the impetus for a California Energy Commission meeting on Thursday, where state agencies will consider policies to support floating offshore wind technology.

There’s a lot to like about offshore wind—and even better, there is a lot of it. 

According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a fleet of wind turbines floating (mostly out of sight) roughly 25 miles off our coastline could produce 16 gigawatts of energy—about a third of the 40-plus gigawatts used statewide during peak periods. 

In addition to being 100% carbon-free, these facilities could provide energy when we need it most: Coastal winds pick up right when the sun goes down and air conditioners are firing up.

Paired with storage and other renewable sources, offshore wind is one of our best options for replacing fossil fuel peaker plants used today to keep the lights on. This means less air pollution, less oil extraction, and fewer neighborhoods suffering from dirty power facilities. 

Like any new technology, there are complex issues to resolve to ensure the price is competitive, and its presence well off our shores protects the environment and our precious sea life.

But we’ve done this before in California. And we can’t let business as usual stop us from doing it again. If we want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in their faces and tell them we did everything we could, we must act now—because our most precious resource is not renewable. It is time, and we are running out of it.  

________

Dan Jacobson is state director of Environment California, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Latest in Commentary

Commentary

California has reformed consumer loan interest rates. But will lenders find loopholes?

Commentary

California leads the way in precision medicine

An Uber drives gives a passenger a ride. Photo by Alexander Torrenegra via Wikimedia Commons

Commentary

California’s AB 5 will kill the gig economy and force more companies to leave

Commentary

Why we won’t call 911: Too often, police officers’ response to mental illness is deadly

Commentary

Newsom’s a mixed bag so far

Commentary

California must take the final step by abolishing the death penalty