A number of public speakers at a scoping meeting on offshore wind energy impact analysis said a full environmental impact statement should be prepared before the federal government leases plots. in an area northwest of Morro Bay.
But Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials said a full EIA cannot be conducted on the effects of the installation and operation of wind turbines in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area until tenants do not offer specific projects that can be analysed.
Located about 20 miles west of San Simeon, the Morro Bay area encompasses 376 square miles of ocean that officials say could support enough wind turbines to generate 3 gigawatts of electricity.
The comments arrived Wednesday morning during the second of two virtual meetings to help define what should be considered in an environmental analysis of activities that will determine the characteristics and suitability of the Morro Bay wind energy area.
Lisa Gilbane, chief of the office’s Pacific region environmental analysis section, said public input is important and noted that sections have already been removed from the area following comments made during the first scoping meeting on December 1st.
Once the environmental scan is complete, the office will proceed with the lease auction, which will combine the Morro Bay area with the Humbolt Wind Energy Area west of Eureka and is expected to take place this fall, a said Sara Guiltinan, Renewable Energy Specialist with BOEM Pacific Region.
But all this is only the first phase of a long process.
“From where we are today, it will be several years before we see steel in the water,” Guiltinan said.
Companies that obtain leases will be required to submit a site assessment plan for approval, and then will have five years to complete the assessment which could include installing weather buoys, taking cores, and carrying out biological, archaeological, geological and geophysical.
Guiltinan said the number of turbines, their locations, how they will be anchored and other details will not be known until after that, when the companies submit their construction and installation plans.
That’s when the full environmental impact statement will be prepared, but those who spoke at the meeting said it wasn’t soon enough.
The public wants more analysis
“It looks like BOEM is ready to rent first and ask questions later,” said Larry Thevik, president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman’s Association. “We expect the areas proposed for wind energy to eventually become exclusion zones.”
Excluding fishermen from wind power areas requires a full EIA to be carried out early, Thevik said.
Kate Kelly of Defenders of Wildlife said national environmental protection law requires analysis as soon as it can be done, and issuing leases will have impacts that will need to be assessed along with other activities.
“It can’t be separated,” she said. “It’s all part of the same process.”
Mike Okoniewski of the West Coast Pelagic Group pointed out that there don’t appear to be any triggers that would prevent a lease from moving forward.
“I don’t see what value environmental assessment would have as it’s structured now,” Okoniewski said. “In fact, it could lead to the wrong conclusions.”
Norbert Dall of the Coast of California Project said electrification is compatible with preserving the environment, but the environmental assessment is insufficient to inform the public and comply with national environmental protection law and California Environmental Quality Act.
Paul Hundal said any environmental analysis should compare a project to the alternative, which he says in this case is offshore oil spills, and offshore energy areas should be considered protected areas to provide a refuge for fish and reduce the depletion of ocean resources.
But Shari Hafer, speaking on behalf of her husband, Tom, president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, disagreed that fishermen are exploiting the ocean and pointed out that California already has 27 marine protected areas.
“One of the biggest enemies right now is the industrialization of the ocean,” she said, adding that offshore energy areas are close to historic fishing ports where the amount of fish landed each year could be reduced by the impact of the turbines.
She noted that the loss of the commercial fishing industry in Morro Bay and Port San Luis could mean a loss of $8.75 million in fishing revenue, and that mitigation measures for fishermen should be included in the site assessment.
Claudia Harmon Worthen of Beautify Cambria and the Dark Sky Commission were concerned about the impact five lights per turbine unit would have on the night sky and subsequently on coastal property values.
She also noted that Cambria is one of only three places on the coast for native Monterey pines, which rely heavily on fog to survive.
“Fog is what keeps our pines alive in the summer,” she said, adding that wind turbines can break and reduce the amount of fog, and that needs to be analyzed.