UNCEDED LANDS OF THE WIYOT PEOPLE — This Wednesday, California North Floating, LLC and RWE Offshore Wind Holdings, LLC won two offshore wind energy area leases, auctioned 21 miles off Humboldt Bay, totaling 132,369 acres, over $331 million in bids, and the potential for 140-170 megawatts (MW) of power with existing transmission infrastructure. Once fully built out, these offshore wind projects could power more than 1.5 million homes. While this makes significant progress towards state and national clean energy goals, more investments and protections for Tribes, the environment, fisheries and local communities are needed to prepare the North Coast for this new industry.
The auction was the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) first for the West Coast, and the first in the U.S. for floating offshore wind, including two leases off Humboldt Bay and three off Morro Bay. This auction is pivotal for meeting the Biden Administration’s goals of 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030, and the Newsom Administration’s goals of 25 GW by 2045.These lease areas total over 373,000 acres of ocean waters and at least 4.5 GW of capacity for offshore wind.
“The offshore wind project for Humboldt is a game-changer for how California can shift to a more sustainable way to provide critical energy and reliability while fighting against climate change,” said California Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg). “The importance of state and federal agencies investing in this region, and the community benefits that will be gained, can’t be underestimated.”
Securing community benefits for the region that will host this industry remains a top concern for North Coast leaders and residents. “Unfortunately, the local component of the bid credits in the final sale notice and auction falls short of the investments needed for equitable wind energy development, meaning that local communities and Tribal Nations won’t have the resources needed to address the impacts of this new industry, or actually benefit from it,” cautioned Bryna Lipper, CEO of the Humboldt Area Foundation. She clarified that “the auction today totalled only 5-10 percent for a community benefits agreement with fisheries users, and 5 percent for a general community benefits agreement,” which is much lower than the 50% local leaders and the state of California have advocated for in letters to BOEM.
Community-centered stipulations and incentives for local partnerships with developers are particularly important in this region, which plans to host industry activities and has a legacy of underinvestment. “We are hearing that there is determination from the region that past exploitations of extractive energy, timber, and other resource based industries are not repeated,” shared Jana Ganion, Sustainability and Government Affairs Direct of Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe. Because the region is slated to host both on and offshore wind industry, development will likely have a significant impact on local communities. While many residents are optimistic about the potential benefits of the new industry, communities will need to work together to ensure that offshore wind development secures local benefits and centers residents’ needs.
“The county has been working hard to represent and support local residents, communities, and industries to ensure that offshore wind development provides community benefits, minimizes and mitigates any unavoidable impacts, and generates economic opportunity for the region,” explained Sean Quincy, Deputy County Administrative Officer for Humboldt County. “Offshore wind energy development is a key strategy to fight global climate change, and we look forward to working directly with project developers to build a sustainable approach in conjunction with local and regional stakeholders.”
Sufficient port access is key to the viability of this new industry in the West Coast, with the port in Humboldt Bay playing a key role. Offshore wind assembly includes turbines measuring approximately 500 feet in height, which are anticipated to grow to more than 800 feet by 2035. In October, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District announced a new partnership with Crowley Wind Services to develop the Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind and Heavy Lift Marine Terminal, which could support the offshore wind industry all along the West Coast.
“Offshore wind energy development is actually a cluster of industries, including wind farms, electricity grid upgrades, and build-out of the Humboldt Bay port to serve the U.S. Pacific Coast,” Ganion explained further. She also highlighted the need for significant local investments: “In the Humboldt County region this cluster coincides with rapid broadband and Cal Poly Humboldt expansions, related needs for local content and supply chain growth, workforce development programs, and, crucially, more housing and healthcare – all with the lowest carbon footprint possible.”
Arne Jacobson, Schatz Energy Research Center Director at Cal Poly Humboldt, echoed the importance of funding related infrastructure development as well as community engagement: “Humboldt County’s existing electric infrastructure has limited capacity to support offshore wind development in the region. The current system can incorporate a small offshore wind farm, but significant upgrades would be needed to use the full area designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for offshore wind development. A larger wind farm would contribute more to efforts to address climate change and to regional economic development, and associated electrical grid upgrades would help improve reliability. At the same time, for offshore wind to succeed, it will be very important to ensure tangible benefits are delivered to communities in our region on an equitable basis and concerns are considered and addressed through a robust public engagement process.”
Given these needs, labor leaders are particularly interested in securing local career benefits through offshore wind development. “LiUNA is committed to working with the Community Benefit Network, Tribal, state and federal partners and developers to create a workforce and labor strategy that increases opportunities for local communities, frontline and underrepresented communities, and Tribal Nations,” shared Vice President Fernando Campos and Political Captain Treston Shull of LiUNA Local 324, an affiliate of the Laborer’s International Union of North America. “LiUNA believes Offshore wind project development is a vital component of an all of the above energy development strategy to ensure the energy needs of Californians are met now and into the future.”
Ganion further highlighted the importance of community leaders working together to win local benefits: “A new structure of collaboration is forming to deploy this new once-in-a-generation opportunity more equitably, with tangible jobs and other benefits for the greatest number of people possible, prioritizing Tribal Nations and other marginalized entities in terms of racial equity and environmental and climate justice.”
Over the last year the Redwood Region Climate and Community Resilience Hub (CORE Hub) convened the North Coast Community Benefits Network (‘the Network’), a group of Northern California Tribal Nations, local governments, community leaders and institutions, community-based organizations, environmental groups, and academics to advocate for local investments through BOEM’s leasing process. Unlike the timber, oil, gas, and geothermal industries, offshore wind lease revenues are not split with local governments, but rather go directly to the U.S. Treasury. The Network, along with the state of California, asked BOEM for 50% bid credits” for local workforce investments, equity and resident-focused community benefits, Tribal investments, and environmental protections. Local resident and Network member Carol Vander Meer further clarified the Network’s goals: “This partnership will advocate for offshore wind developers to re-invest in the Peninsula so that coastal resources are protected, infrastructure improvements are made, and workforce development happens locally.”
BOEM’s lease terms and today’s auction were just one of many opportunities for local residents and leaders to shape the buildout of offshore wind. Katerina Oskarsson, Executive in Residence with the CORE Hub added: “The Network will continue to closely watch these projects. During the leasing and permitting process, the CORE Hub will continue its engagement with BOEM to ensure the meaningful adoption of any terms and conditions that are laid out in the final sale notice. At the same time, we will continue supporting and growing the capacity of the North Coast Community Benefits Network so we can continue to collectively advocate on behalf of our region.”
About the Redwood CORE Hub
The Redwood Region Climate And Community Resilience Hub (CORE Hub) is a community organization dedicated to solving the climate emergency through actions that result in more resilient communities and ecosystems.
The CORE Hub was established by regional leaders in climate resilience, mitigation, and adaptation and is based at the Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Community Foundation, serving the California counties of Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity, as well as Curry County in Oregon. The CORE Hub’s service area includes 27 Tribal Nations and Indigenous Territories. The CORE Hub’s goal is to help the region become the first proven carbon-sequestering rural and Tribal region in the United States. The CORE Hub acts toward this goal through planning and policy guidance; facilitating healthy civic dialogue; taking action for equity; promoting accurate, accessible public information; providing research, analysis, and technical assistance; project acceleration; promoting traditional knowledge and multi-generational values; and conducting rigorous tracking to document progress and ensure accountability.
To learn more about the CORE Hub’s work and community partnerships, visit https://redwoodcorehub.org/about/.