Community Benefits and Protections Alongside Offshore Wind Development

Background Information

The Pacific Coast of the U.S. is the latest international location for the development of offshore wind energy. The Department of Interior, through its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently began the process to license offshore wind production on the Pacific Coast. Two California regions are under assessment, the Humboldt Wind Energy Area (HWEA) in the Redwood Region/North Coast, with one of the world’s best wind resources approximately twenty miles offshore, and Morro Bay on the Central Coast.

If designed and implemented appropriately, offshore wind in the Humboldt WEA can provide key climate resiliency benefits by improving local power reliability and reducing local dependence on fossil fuels. It can also bring jobs, training, and other economic benefits to the region. However, offshore wind must be considered within the context of potential impacts on marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife; Tribal nation culture and traditional use of local mariculture and tourism economies; impacts on non-tribal fisheries and the ocean economy; and regional affordability. The region’s history of resource and human exploitation as well as boom and bust development has particularly harmed the region’s Indigenous peoples. There are additional development and economic factors to consider and design for, including harbor development, energy transmission and storage infrastructure, and enterprise opportunities for local entities. New offshore wind development projects must be designed and implemented to deliver those jobs, improved energy infrastructure and other benefits to the region’s under-resourced and under-served communities. For more information about offshore wind, visit the CORE Hub’s technical resources webpage and the Schatz Energy Research Center site.

The CORE Hub has been requested by federal, Tribal, state, and local governments, agencies, and community organizations to facilitate community engagement on Offshore Wind, to include “community benefits” strategies that will ultimately help guide and shape this new industry as it develops within the region. In this work, we will help reduce conflicts, avoid maladaptation, and create enduring human, environmental, and economic resilience.

Offshore wind lease sale notices will be published in mid 2022, with an auction to award initial lease sales anticipated to take place in September 2022. Given this timeline, engaging community interests in a community benefits process now is imperative. With the support of Better World Group (BWG), Brightline Defense, and a group of local facilitators and legal experts, the CORE Hub is in the process of developing a community benefits strategy.

What is a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA)?

A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a written agreement between the community and project developer that outlines a set of benefits the developer agrees to provide.

Potential Benefits May Include:

  • Affordable housing
  • Community development funds
  • Jobs training programs and local hiring commitments
  • Funding for community services and facilities such as parks, child care centers, schools, and health clinics
  • More reliable energy infrastructure and energy equity for rural and Tribal communities

A CBA defines a set of commitments made by project proponents and created in coordination with the local community. These commitments are made separate from permit conditions or environmental mitigation. Their purpose goes beyond traditional concepts of “mitigation” and is to demonstrate goodwill and address concerns regarding adverse effects the communities endure through construction of major capital construction works.

A Term Sheet is a non-binding document that summarizes the key terms and conditions that will form the basis for the negotiation and development of the Community Benefits or other Agreements. It is the first step towards an enforceable benefit in a permit or other approval.

An equitable CBA negotiation table includes 1) community coalitions composed of diverse community partners, 2) project proponents, and 3) Tribes and local government. We are hoping to engage:

  • Tribal governments
  • Tribal organizations
  • Community-based organizations representing underrepresented communities
  • Local government and agencies
  • Local environmental and conservation groups
  • Local educational leaders
  • Trade unions

To reach an effective CBA that centers community needs, a clear pathway with a thoughtfully designed timeline and engagement process is crucial. Essential steps for forming the pathway include:

  • Building the coalition
  • Researching facts and policies related to offshore wind in the Humboldt area
  • Conducting authentic community engagement
  • Identifying specific community priorities
  • Informing decision-makers
  • Approaching the project proponent(s)
  • Staying in alignment with government agencies & developer(s)
  • Being in clear communication
  • Designing and implementing the negotiation process

The lease sale notice is an opportunity for BOEM to describe the factors they will consider when determining which developers will have the right to submit plans for offshore wind in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area. It is an opportunity to put in factors other than price, including community or environmental benefits such as commitments to workforce development, local supply chain, outreach to underrepresented communities, or commitments to monitoring for marine mammals.

A lease gives the exclusive rights to a specific developer to submit plans for offshore wind development in a given area. Winning a lease does not mean that the developer has rights to proceed further in the offshore wind development process.

A CBA is an agreement between a coalition of groups or Tribes and a private developer. However, to be enforceable, the terms of the agreement are included in one or a series of permits or approvals. BOEM’s public comment period for its Environmental Assessment for the Humboldt Wind Energy was recently completed. You can find the CORE Hub’s comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment here.

BOEM is engaged in government to government consultation with Tribal Nations. In addition, they have invited Tribes to participate in the Tribal Cultural Landscapes Study, and are hosting Tribal listening sessions. The California Energy Commission is conducting a Tribal Cultural Inventory process, and this outreach is not a substitute for government-to-government consultation. This community benefits agreement process is an agreement between a project developer and a group, Tribe, or optimally, a diverse coalition of Tribes, NGOs, and community groups. Although it should be memorialized in a governmental permit or agreement, or series of permits, it should not impinge on the government-to-government consultation process. CORE Hub is partnering with California Indian Legal Services to provide counsel around how to move forward with a CBA that might include Tribal partners, and also accounts for and respects negotiations Tribes may engage in outside of the CORE Hub CBA process.

Yes, certainly, Tribal Nations via government-to-government consultation can work to affect benefits in their communities, community members can participate in the environmental review process in order to improve the final project, its siting, monitoring, or mitigation. However, one of the benefits of a CBA is that it is an umbrella agreement between parties, and there are certain advantages in scope and enforcement to a single agreement

Throughout the Humboldt Wind Energy Area offshore wind energy development process, there are points for the public to influence the process. Below is a timeline of milestones in the offshore wind development process. The timeline includes processes managed by various different regional, state, and federal regulatory bodies and is subject to change as those agencies adjust and adapt their activities.

General Timeline for Offshore Wind Development in California

The offshore wind development timeline is dependent on a multitude of factors and can be significantly expedited or delayed depending on developer, agency, and public input process. The general timeline below is subject to change especially depending on the length of time lessees take to submit Site Assessment Plans and Construction and Operations Plans as well as the length of time to complete environmental reviews. 

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