Speed up offshore wind projects to help combat climate change

The climate-change clock continues to tick away as time draws nearer to when the most disastrous consequences of global temperature increases are unavoidable.

A team of meteorologists from the World Meteorological Organization recently predicted that within the next five years there’s a nearly 50-50 chance that earth will at least once exceed that tipping point — 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial temperatures.

There is, however, hope on the horizon — the blue horizon. Offshore wind energy has the potential to be a gamechanger for California and the United States in our race to achieve fossil-fuel-free energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

According to Environment America, the United States has the technical potential to produce enough offshore wind energy to nearly double the amount of electricity the country consumed in 2019 and about 90% of what it would consume in 2050 if we transitioned our buildings, transportation systems and industries away from fossil fuels.

The Pacific region, which includes Hawaii but excludes Alaska, has the technical potential for offshore wind to produce more than double the energy it used in 2019, and almost 90% of what it is projected to use in 2050, assuming maximum electrification.

The California Coastal Commission has taken an initial step to bring offshore wind energy to our state.  The commission gave energy developers a conditional green light to purchase leasing rights in federal waters off the Humboldt County coast, allowing them to access the area’s potential to become an offshore wind farm. Morro Bay also has been identified as having great potential for offshore wind development.

This month, the California Energy Commission set ambitious goals for the state’s offshore wind energy production: 3 gigawatts by 2030 and up to 20 GW by 2045 (1 GW can power 750,000 homes). The Biden administration is on board, calling for 30 GW of U.S. offshore wind energy production by 2030.

Construction and operation of offshore-wind platforms off our coast are years away, yet the need for clean, renewable energy becomes more apparent every day.

In 2020, electricity production in the United States accounted for a quarter of the nation’s GHG emissions, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The industry sector of the economy contributed another 24% of GHGs, primarily from burning fossil fuels for energy. Greenhouse gas molecules in the atmosphere trap light, heating up the atmosphere which raises the earth’s average temperature.

Summer heat records fall every year. The Sierra snowpack is shrinking. As reservoirs and rivers recede, fish species become endangered or extinct. California’s wildfire season seems never-ending. A recent study found wildfire smoke in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California could double by mid-century and triple by the end of the century. Human-induced climate change is behind these calamities and more.

Offshore wind energy can help California meet its mandate of having a carbon-free grid by 2045 but technical, environmental and regulatory barriers must be overcome.

Developers will have to mitigate potential impacts on the fishing industry, recreation, tourism and the threat to marine habitat and species. Conflicts with military operations must be resolved. Affected tribes must have input. Ports and transmission infrastructure must be developed. The cost will be in the billions.

Some fossil-fuel interests will no doubt try to gum up the works. Astroturf groups with earnest-sounding names like “Save Our Sea” or “Marine Advocates Against Developers” will spring up to oppose offshore wind development.

But we must overcome these challenges because time, and the climate-change clock, are not on our side.

Rocky Jaramillo Rushing is a consultant for Eco Equity, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that strives to create sustainable economies, an inclusive work force and equitable environmental policies.

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