In a major boost for advocates of alternative energy, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 286 on Oct. 7, authorizing offshore wind generators to be erected along the California coast. This long-awaited legislation, supporters argue, is a major leap toward weaning the state off fossil fuels and enhancing the use of alternative sources to bolster electrical infrastructure.
The legislation, proposed by state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), is aligned with the California Coastal Act of 1976, which requires any development along the coast or in coastal waters to gain prior approval from the California Coastal Commission.
Naturally, passage of SB286 is only an initial phase of extensive coastal planning designed to embrace the needs of commercial, tribal and recreational fisheries, along with other interests, along the California coast. The bill requires the drafting of a coastal strategy by Jan. 1, 2026, and passage of the plan by May 1, 2026, thereby allowing corporations and public utilities to apply for approval of their wind generator installation plans.
SB286 is a critical step in fulfilling the 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018, which raised California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal to 60% by 2030. Zero-carbon resources must supply 100% of California’s retail electricity sales and electricity used by state agencies by 2045. Whether this is achievable is yet to be seen, but the windmill farms will certainly be a major jump toward reaching those goals.
Currently, renewable energy sources comprise 56.3% of California’s electrical needs, with natural gas supplying 34.1%, hydroelectric power 6% and nuclear power 3.6%. A long chain of wind turbines along the coast could eventually alleviate the harm hydroelectric dams currently wreak on fish populations and the ever-present possibility of a meltdown at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County.
Bringing together the myriad groups affected by this legislation obviously will be a challenge at the local and state level. Some coastal communities no doubt will bemoan what they consider an eyesore and impediment to navigation just beyond the waves on their favorite beaches.
Although the bill does not specifically address these concerns, it does allow for “reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts associated with offshore wind projects.” The wording here is rather vague, allowing for the possibility of litigation from any individual or group claiming injury or financial loss from the wind generators.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) has expressed its reservations regarding coastal wind generators’ possible harm to the coastal fishing industry. As a partial solution to anticipated damage, RODA has proposed a detailed plan for controlling the deployment of offshore wind turbines and prohibiting them in “sensitive habitats including spawning areas and high-value fishing grounds.”
RODA also proposes impact fees on offshore wind energy to compensate for losses to the fishing industry on all coasts of the U.S. Because wind generators are installed in depths of less than 20 meters (66 feet), RODA argues they pose a danger to the coastal fishing industry and sport fishers as well.
Some local boaters may find the generator towers to be a nuisance, if not an outright hazard, to coastal navigation. Sailing around large windmill towers at night, whether they are lighted or not, could be regarded by some boaters as dangerous.
Jib Kelly, staff commodore of the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club and owner of Kelly Marine in San Pedro, commented on what he regards as an intrusion into coastal sailing. “These are just more things for boaters to avoid,” said Kelly in a recent interview with The Log. “It’s just that much more stuff to look out for while sailing along the coast.”
Taking a more favorable view of SB286, Ron Durham, an avid Los Angeles Harbor sailor who cruises Southern California waters on his 1966 Columbia 29 sloop, cited the documented advantages of wind farms along the coast. “If they do their research and place the wind turbines where they won’t harm boaters, they can contribute a valuable source of energy to help clean up the planet,” Durham explained.
“They need to take time to figure out where to put the wind generators, even though not everyone is going to be happy about them,” Durham added. “They can make them less of an eyesore by making them attractive, like the oil pumping islands in Long Beach.”
Public opinion regarding coastal wind farms undoubtedly will continue to evolve as California implements this new power infrastructure. And local boaters will continue to adapt to their ever-changing coastal environment. With updated vector charts in modern electronic chart plotters, the towers should pose no further challenge to coastal navigation than the hundreds of buoys and natural obstructions already dotting the California coast.
Most ocean boaters are accustomed to channel markers extending in some cases several miles from harbor entrances, and many of those are not lighted. Large markers along the coast, particularly lighthouses, use both a fog horn and a flashing light to warn boaters. No doubt, California boaters can expect to see similar warnings on permanently installed windmill generators stationed along the coast.
One thing is certain: SB286 is now law, and the hope is that California will benefit from cleaner energy sources, along with a safe navigation environment for coastal boaters.