Harnessing a Windfall

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters; iStock

Ocean waters off California’s coast will host a massive experiment: Floating platforms with giant turbines and spinning rotors will capture the Pacific Ocean’s prodigious wind energy. Large expanses of ocean about 20 miles off the coast of Humboldt County and Morro Bay have been leased to five energy companies.

Never before have wind platforms been floated in such deep waters, so far from shore. With hundreds of turbines, each as tall as a 70-floor building, these five wind farms could produce enough carbon-free electricity for 1.5 million households — with many more projects to come by 2045.

State and federal agencies are rushing to try to analyze the implications for marine life and how new port and electrical infrastructure might industrialize California’s coast. But our CalMatters report, “Harnessing a Windfall,” reveals that the potential impacts of these structures won’t be understood until they are already constructed and operating, which could happen within a decade.

Communities and tribes in the two regions worry that the pace is so fast and the projects so massive that their local economies and environment are at risk. These wind farms also need a massive infusion of public and private money: Each wind farm could cost $5 billion to develop, construct and assemble.

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