The Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) for two regions on California’s outer continental shelf heralds the start of offshore wind development off the US West Coast. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has stated that these sites have the potential for 4.5GW of offshore wind energy.

California isn’t the easiest place to deploy offshore wind projects. The sites chosen by BOEM, in common with the rest of the CA coast, are in deep water. Floating rather than fixed foundations will be needed. The chosen areas at Humbolt in the north sites do have some of the best wind resources, but they are also some distance from suitable grid connections. The areas at Morro Bay off central California are closer to the population but have relatively low wind speeds. Transmission cost will play a key role in the commercial attractiveness of the sites. California is a prosperous state with resources already demanding a premium. Most ports are already near capacity with trade or defence work. California labour is also expensive. A complex web of local, state and federal regulatory frameworks means that permitting is unlikely to be straight forward.

Despite this, the demand for the sea bed leases is likely to be high. California is desperate for electricity to see an end to the threat of blackouts. Large demand spikes can be caused when air conditioning is turned up to the maximum. California has a target of 50% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for the state to achieve by 2030. Transmission and regulatory barriers hinder electricity imports from other states.  Onshore wind is difficult due to siting challenges. So solar and battery storage are the only viable alternative to offshore wind. The likely electricity prices achieved by offshore wind would cover the additional costs mentioned above.

With BOEM expected to start scoping more California call areas in the next 6-12 months, for California offshore wind could quickly become a reality rather than just a dream.


Kate Freeman