In early April, two major advances were made in the development of offshore wind power in California. On April 6, 2022, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an office of the United States Department of the Interior, released a draft environmental assessment for the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (WEA) in off the central coast of California. The following day, the California Coastal Commission removed a key hurdle to the first offshore wind development, voting unanimously to conditionally accept BOEM’s Federal Consistency Determination that proposed leasing and leasing activities within the Humboldt WEA off the northern California coast are California Coastal Management compliant. Program (CCMP).
For context related to the Commission’s consistency determination, the federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA) requires that all activities of federal agencies (including federal development projects, permits and licenses, and assistance to state and local governments) affecting the coastal zone are consistent with CCMP’s enforceable policies. When a federal agency seeks to undertake a development activity or project that affects the coastal zone, it prepares a consistency determination. The consistency determination includes an analysis of the proposed action with respect to the relevant CCMP enforceable policies and concludes whether the proposed activity will be undertaken in a manner consistent to the greatest extent possible with the CCMP. The Board reviews the consistency determination and may approve, conditionally approve or oppose.
Commission staff made it clear at last week’s meeting and in the staff report that the Commission views this consistency determination as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the Commission’s role in the process. With its agreement, the Commission approved seven conditions aimed at mitigating the impacts of studies and site assessment activities on marine resources, commercial fishing, environmental justice communities, and tribal and cultural resources. Condition 1 requires the BOEM to work with Commission staff “to ensure that tenant survey, sampling and analysis plans are coordinated, consistent, minimize impacts on coastal resources and provide the data and information necessary for the analysis of future consistency certifications, if any”. Conditions 2 to 7 respond to more specific concerns, in particular by avoiding contact with the bottom (condition 2); avoid collisions with ships (Condition 3); ensure safe navigation in the concession areas (condition 4); engage with environmental justice communities (Condition 5) and Native American tribes in California (Condition 6); and collaborate with local commercial fishing communities (Condition 7). To read the full conditions, see the Commission’s staff report.
Although limited in scope, this vote represents a major first step in the development of offshore wind in California. The vote clears the way for companies interested in offshore wind development to begin studies and site assessment activities in the Humboldt WEA. BOEM plans to issue up to three leases in the Humboldt WEA Lease Auction scheduled for later this year. Once BOEM tenants have completed site surveys and assessment activities, they will submit a construction and operating plan (COP) to develop a lease. The COP will also require a consistency certification from the Commission before BOEM approves any future development.
The Humboldt WEA is one of two WEAs scheduled for federal waters off the California coast. On April 6, 2022, just one day before the Humboldt WEA Consistency Determination Commission meeting, BOEM released a draft environmental assessment for the Morro Bay WEA, located approximately 20 miles off the county of San Luis Obispo. BOEM is currently seeking public comments on the draft environmental assessment until May 6, 2022. During the public comment period, BOEM will host two virtual public meetings on April 14 and 19. See BOEM’s Morro Bay Wind Energy Zone webpage for more information. BOEM will need to conduct the same process of determining CCMP consistency with the Coastal Commission for the Morro Bay WEA. BOEM plans to hold a lease auction for the Humboldt and Morro Bay WEAs together later this year. This will be BOEM’s first offshore wind lease auction in California.
Meanwhile, the State Lands Commission is evaluating two applications for floating offshore wind projects in state waters. See the State Land Commission’s webpage on Offshore Wind Applications in State Waters for more information.
There is still a long way to go for offshore wind in California. To learn more about permitting and interconnection considerations for offshore wind development in California, see Downey Brand’s previous article: Developing Offshore Wind in California – Environmental Permitting and Licensing Considerations interconnection.