The 765-megawatt project, proposed by Seattle-based Trident Winds, would sit about 25 miles off California’s central coast, near the town of Cambria. If built, it will be larger than the 630-megawatt London Array off the coast of Kent, – the world’s largest working offshore wind farm that began operating in 2013.
To win government approval, Trident will have to prepare a lengthy report to investigate the potential environmental impact of its project.
California’s coast is a major migration route for several whale species, and the underwater structures of the floating wind turbines could pose an entanglement risk.
“All the marine mammals, they have pretty good sonar detection,” Weinstein says. “So because we’re talking about fairly thick lines, they can detect those obstacles in the water and swim around them. There have been no known incidents of marine mammals tangled up in mooring lines of offshore oil drilling platforms.”
Offshore wind development already has taken off in Europe and other parts of the world. The UK, for example, has installed more than 5 gigawatts of offshore wind power plants, meeting 10% of its total energy demand.
California has some of the world’s toughest coastal development regulations. The state’s first large seawater desalination project, for example, took more than six years to win government approval and survived 14 lawsuits before construction started.
“On the one hand, we want to support, in some fashion, renewable energy,” says Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of the environmental group California Coastkeeper Alliance. “On the other hand, we wouldn’t want to support anything that has serious impacts on marine issues. There is so much that is unknown about constructing something thats essentially in the middle of the ocean. So it could be a tough issue for us.”
Trident submitted an application to the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Managementin January to lease about 50 square miles of ocean for 30 years. The project will also need approval from several state agencies.
The Trident project calls for mounting 100 turbines on floating foundations in water that’s roughly half a mile deep. Floating foundations, which are kept in place with anchors and cables, have so far been used only in small pilot projects in places such as Portugal, Norway and Scotland. The anchors themselves may be giant concrete blocks or huge steel structures with hooks that grab the sea floor, not unlike a ship’s anchor.
“It’s the first of its kind, so it will be important to think about whether we need additional (regulatory) procedures to consider its effect on our oceans,” says Aminzadeh, of Coastkeeper Alliance.
“In general, we want to think about whether this is the right place for this project. A lot of times, the factors that lead a private company like Trident to a location such as this are not [to do with] whether it’s the best place from an environmental perspective.”
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