MORRO BAY, Calif. — The Biden administration announced Wednesday plans to put offshore wind farms in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of central and northern California. The turbines are a common sight in the southern part of the state, but these would be the first located off the Golden State's coast. Many are celebrating the move as a chance to reduce the state's dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Biden administration announced plans to bring offshore wind farms to the California coast for the first time

  • They could power 1.6 million homes and reduce the state's dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power

  • Rep. Carbajal helped with negotiations with the Defense Department that held back the development

  • Fishermen say not enough research has been done to know the effects of wind turbines on the ecosystem and biology of the area

Dr. Miriam Goldstein, a mother of two, is the managing director for Energy and Environment Policy and the director for Ocean Policy at American Progress.

"I want to make sure that our children and their children have a livable world in which to thrive," Goldstein said.

She said the effects of climate change are everywhere, whether you know it or not.

"Californians may not think about climate change in terms of climate change, but they are absolutely seeing the effect in their daily lives. Everything from the huge rise in fires and the extension of fire season, and all of the devastation that has caused to people's lives and property, to drought issues, to people having to say, 'Well, you can't water your lawn or use water the way you want to.' That is all linked directly to climate change," Goldstein said.

She's working to elevate the ocean into the climate conversation, which is why she's excited for President Joe Biden's plans to allow wind farms off the coast of California. The administration envisions massive floating wind turbines that could produce enough electricity to power 1.6 million homes.

"The wind farms that could come off California are an incredibly important step in reaching our clean energy goals, which we have to reach in order to slow the rate of climate change and eventually achieve our goals of 100% clean energy," Goldstein said.

Initially, the Defense Department objected to the proposal. It was concerned the turbines would interfere with activity by the Navy and Air Force in the area, but San Luis Obispo Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-24, worked with the military to address concerns. He authored an amendment in the last Defense Authorization Act to allow offshore wind energy development off the coast of Morro Bay. 

"This will help California meet its renewable energy goals by 2045," Carbajal said.

The state has a goal to get to 100% use of zero-carbon electricity by 2045. The wind farms also would help California end its reliance on nuclear power, a shift that will be completed when the state's last nuclear plant, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, near Avila Beach, is expected to shut down in 2025. Wind development will also make up for those 1,500 lost jobs, Carbajal said. 

But while the economy may get a boost, there are concerns about the ecosystem.

The Northwest Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations says the administration is "rushing unproven technology, with unknown impacts to our ocean ecosystem" and says there needs to be more research on the potential effects of these giant turbines on marine life and local fisheries. The group also says it wasn't fully consulted as the administration pushed this project.

"The fishing industry has been told these areas work best for offshore wind developers, but no one has asked us what areas would work best for us," said Mike Conroy, PCFFA's executive director. "There has been no effort to engage with or partner with fishermen, no planning process to evaluate fisheries data and spatial needs to inform this development, nor is there a clear process for how to do that through permitting now that we have missed the opportunity to plan effectively."

Carbajal said he is making sure that engagement changes.

"I will ensure that they are part of the process to make sure that everybody is heard as we move forward with these types of projects," Carbajal said. "This is a collective process, and I want to make sure that we are working collaboratively to make sure that these facilities do not create any visual blight, and they have minimal impact on the environment of our coasts."  

The Northwest PCFFA said they aren't opposed to the project, but they're hoping the administration will slow down and thoroughly research the effects of these structures on the ecosystem and biology in the area.

"Far too many questions remain unanswered regarding potential impacts to marine life, which is dependent on a healthy ecosystem," Conroy said in a statement.

The hundreds of wind turbines will be placed 17-40 miles offshore. Because of that, Carbajal said it's likely Californians will not be able to see them from land, and if they do, he said they would be barely noticeable.

A potential lease auction for the offshore wind sites, which includes another in northern California, could be held as soon as next spring.